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Hollywood Digest

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   Oct. 24, 2002 at 4:18 PM   |   Comments

'REBA' WRITER ACCUSES WB, FOX OF AGEISM

A 54-year-old writer filed an age-discrimination lawsuit Wednesday against the WB network and 20th Century Fox Television, accusing them of passing him over for a promotion in favor of younger, less qualified writers and firing him from Reba McEntire's comedy "Reba" because of his age.

Gary Miller -- a former staff writer on "Laverne & Shirley" and "Bosom Buddies" and an executive producer on "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" -- said in his complaint that network officials told him they were going to stay with "greener writers," even after his work on "Reba" was submitted for Emmy consideration. Miller said he was the only "Reba" staff writer over 40 when the staff was first put together.

According to Miller's suit, "Reba's" executive producer repeatedly recommended that Miller be hired as a co-executive producer, but WB and Fox officials turned thumbs down on the appointment, filling the job from a list of writers in their late 20s and early to mid 30s. The suit alleges that the executive producer told Miller earlier this year that he would be considered for co-executive producer, but the network and studio not only refused to consider him for the job -- they fired him from the show altogether.

The complaint points out that writers over 50 account for 3 percent of the writing staff and two percent of the credits on the WB in prime time, while about one-third of the membership of the Writer's Guild of America is over 50.

"This is just another example of the TV industry's unlawful bias in favor of writers under the age of 40," said Steve Sprenger, an attorney for Miller. "This policy is unfortunately not new to the WB or Twentieth Century Fox."

Sprenger's Washington, D.C. law firm, Sprenger & Lang, filed separate class action lawsuits last year, on behalf of more than 150 writers, accusing the major TV networks and studios of age discrimination. The cases are pending in Los Angeles Superior Court.


LATER FOR REDFORD

Robert Redford is planning to star in and direct a sequel to his 1972 political drama "The Candidate."

In the original, Redford played Bill McKay, a political novice running for the U.S. Senate from California. The new project will pick up the story three decades later.

In the original, McKay -- running with little chance of winning -- becomes a media and public favorite by speaking his mind on the issues. As his popularity grows, and it seems he has a real chance of winning, the pressure mounts on him to play the political game.

Jeremy Larner won the Oscar for best original screenplay in 1972. Larry Gelbart ("Tootsie," "Weapons of Mass Distraction") wrote the screenplay for the current project.

Larner had worked as a speechwriter for Sen. Eugene McCarthy during the 1968 presidential campaign. The 1972 movie, directed by Michael Ritchie ("Fletch," "The Bad News Bears"), featured cameos by real life politicians -- including U.S. Senators Alan Cranston, Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern and John Tunney.


JOINED AT THE HIP?

Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear are said to be in talks to star in the upcoming Farrelly brothers' movie "Stuck on You" -- the story of conjoined twins who go to Hollywood because one of them wants to break into the movies.

Peter and Bobby Farrelly ("There's Something About Mary," "Dumb and Dumber") had been planning to make "The Three Stooges" their next project, but they decided to put that off when the opportunity came up to bring Damon and Kinnear into "Stuck on You."


'THE PHANTOM' RETURNS

Plans are under way in Hollywood for another movie version of Lee Falk's long-running comic strip "The Phantom."

Daily Variety reported Thursday that Crusader Entertainment and Hyde Park are working on a big screen adaptation of the comic strip, with plans calling for Steven De Souza ("48 Hours," "Die Hard") to write the screenplay.

Crusader Entertainment CEO Howard Baldwin and Hyde Park CEO Ashok Armitraj told Variety the new picture will have nothing in common with the 1996 movie "The Phantom," which starred Billy Zane as Kit Walker ("The Ghost Who Walks") and featured Catherine Zeta-Jones -- before she became a star with "The Mask of Zorro" in 1998.

Rather, Baldwin and Armitraj said the superhero of Bengalla will operate more like "Spider-Man" or Neo in "The Matrix" -- in a grittier world than the 1996 movie depicted.

"I was among the fans who went to see the movie a few years ago and came away disappointed," said Armitraj. "We wanted to let enough time pass to try it again and I don't think the other movie will hurt this one's prospects overseas. The major thing is to put him in a contemporary setting with the weapons and gizmos and 'Matrix'-style stuff which wasn't done in the previous film."

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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