Who's the hottest star in Hollywood? The honor goes to Adam Sandler, who stunned the movie industry last week with the No. 1 comedy opener of all time, Disney's "Waterboy," which pulled in $39.1 million.

"He's the man, the next Jim Carrey," said Robert Bucksbaum, president of Reel Source Inc., a company that charts box-office returns. He anticipates the film will earn $118 million domestically.

The previous top comedy opener was Carrey's "Ace Ventura," which pulled in $37.8 million at the box office during its first weekend.

The success of "Waterboy" now puts Sandler into Hollywood's ionosphere, where he can command a huge salary for his upcoming films. "He's in the $17 million to $20 million range now," said one studio marketing executive, joining the likes of John Travolta and Tom Cruise.

"He delivers what he promises a good time," said Mitch Goldman, president of marketing and distribution at New Line Cinema. "People like to hug him."

Goldman knows what he is talking about. Sandler's last effort, "The Wedding Singer," pulled in $80 million at the box office this summer. Not bad for a film that cost around $20 million to make.

Sony Entertainment has Sandler's next film, "Big Daddy," a comedy about a high school kid who adopts a 6-year old. It opens in June. Sandler also is currently writing a comedy for New Line.

Goldman said the key to Sandler's success has been the broadening of the "Saturday Night Live" alum's appeal beyond his core audience of young adults.

"He plays the down-and-out loser who always comes out ahead," Bucksbaum said, adding that his success reflects current demand for more middle-of-the-road fare, including "There's Something About Mary," "Rush Hour," "Pleasantville" and "The Truman Show."


Now that NBC's new programming chief Scott Sassa has become the designated heir apparent to Don Ohlmeyer as president, NBC West Coast, who will become president of NBC Entertainment? The buzz centers on Garth Ancier, The WB network's feisty president of entertainment, who has helped the network continually gain young viewers with shows like "Dawson's Creek" and "Felicity."

"If you make a list," said a WB insider, "he's got to be on it. He's flattered, but I think he'll be staying."

The source anticipated that Ancier would receive a whopping raise to remain with The WB.

An NBC official declined to discuss the deal, which, if it happens, could only take place in May when Ancier's contract expires. NBC can't make a bid for Ancier until February, when his contract allows him to entertain offers from WB's rivals.

Besides getting a pay hike to stay, Ancier, like his boss WB Chief Executive Jamie Kellner, has a piece of the network, which would be a motivating factor in staying. This season, The WB is up 14 percent over last year, the highest jump of any of the networks.

The bean counters are running wild. In an effort to save a few dollars, NBC is curtailing its Christmas parties. At CBS, a veteran publicist was laid off, just as she was about to celebrate her 20th anniversary at the network...

Walt Disney Co.'s boutique film company, Miramax, is developing its first reality-based TV series, "The Best Money Can Buy." It's a new twist on how the rich and famous get their revenge by living well...

So how much is a pen worth these days? If you're News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, it will run $30,000. "The Boss," as Murdoch is known by his close associates, won a fountain pen during an auction at the Fulfillment Fund's fourth annual Stars of Tomorrow dinner at the Beverly Hilton. The organization helps disadvantaged students build self-esteem

Ed McMahon's wife, Pam, has added Saks Fifth Avenue to her fashion lineup. She's also added 20 specialty stories around the country. McMahon has been in Neiman Marcus stories around the country, especially Beverly Hills

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