NBC has tied up "ER" through 2006, and CBS has agreed to a big-money deal with the star of "Everybody Loves Raymond," according to a report in Daily Variety.
The paper said NBC has reached a deal with Warner Bros. Television that will ensure the Emmy-winning medical drama will remain in prime time until at least May 2006. That would give the show at least a 12-year run.
Neither NBC nor Warner Bros. TV provided details about the "ER" deal, but industry insiders told Variety the network will not pay any more for the show than it currently pays -- about $8 million per episode -- and might even pay less. NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker told the paper that whatever the cost, losing "ER" wasn't an option.
"It's been No. 1 in adults (ages) 18-49 every season it's been on the air," Zucker said. "It's had a fantastic season this year, with both a creative renaissance and in the ratings. It's truly amazing how strong the show still is."
Variety said CBS will pay Ray Romano $40 million for the upcoming eighth season of "Everybody Loves Raymond" -- making him the highest-paid actor on TV. The network also reportedly agreed to pay somewhere between $5 million and $6 million per episode -- a substantial increase over the current cost of $3 million per episode.
The deal would pay Romano between $1.8 million and $2 million per episode, industry insiders told the paper. "Frasier's" Kelsey Grammer has been pulling down a reported $1.6 million plus per episode for the past two years -- while Romano has been getting $800,000 per episode for "Raymond."
'X' MARKS THE SPOT AT U.S BOX OFFICE AGAIN
"X2: X-Men United" continued to bring moviegoers together in its second weekend, grossing an estimated $41.4 million and nailing a second straight No. 1 finish.
After 10 days in release, the sequel to the 2000 hit "X-Men" has grossed an estimated $149 million.
The new Eddie Murphy comedy "Daddy Day Care" overcame poor-to-mediocre reviews to gross an estimated $27.6 million in its opening weekend, good for No. 2 at the box office. "The Lizzie McGuire Movie" fell from No. 2 to No. 3 with an estimated $7.8 million, and has run its 10-day total to $27 million.
"Identity" finished fourth with $6.3 million, running its 10-day total to $39 million. "Anger Management" was No. 5 with $5.5 million, and a running total of $123 million.
U.S. theaters are loading the projectors with "The Matrix Reloaded" -- which is expected to dominate the box office when it opens on Thursday.
LUCAS LAUNCHES ANIMATION DIVISION
Producer George Lucas has launched an animation division intended to enable him to develop full-length computer-generated features, the Los Angeles Times said.
The paper reported Monday that Lucasfilm Animation is partially a product of Lucas's frustration over the collapse of studio-controlled animated projects that his company was to have produced. It is, in some ways, an expansion of the digital animation group that had been part of Lucas's special effects house, Industrial Light & Magic.
Lucas's spokeswoman Lynn Hale confirmed that the new animation company had been formed.
"Lucasfilm Animation will now have the flexibility to develop and create its own films," said Hale. "It's extremely exciting to have the opportunity to start the search for directors to build projects around."
Hale said the new company does not have its first project set up yet.
WEDDING BELLS FOR CAROL CHANNING
Carol Channing celebrated Mother's Day by adding two stepchildren, five grandchildren and a 4-month-old great-grandchild to her family.
The star of "Hello Dolly" was married on Saturday at the Northern California home of Mervyn's Department store owner Merv Morris and his wife, Roz. The groom is Harry Kullijian -- Channing's high school sweetheart.
They got together 70 years after they separated. The reunion was arranged by Merv Morris, after he read about Channing's first love -- Kullijian -- in her recent autobiography, "Just Lucky, I Guess."
The 82-year-old Channing sang "Hello Dolly" at the reception, replacing "Dolly" with "Harry." She said she was delighted to expand her family from her and her son Chan to a clan that now includes 32 cousins.
"It is all so wonderful," she said. "This is the best time in my life, the first 80 years are definitely the hardest."
REMEMBERING 'LEFT EYE'
Honduran President Ricardo Maduro and the family of Lisa Left Eye Lopes will unveil a monument on May 27 to the singer who was killed in a car crash last year.
Lord Mayor Gonzalo Rivera of the City of La Ceiba -- where Lopes died on April 25, 2002 -- commissioned a local sculptor to create the memorial, which will be located on the 84 acres of land the singer bought shortly before she died.
La Ceiba is the third-largest city in Honduras. Lopes, a member of the Grammy-winning band TLC -- traveled there frequently. She had been a volunteer at a children's development center and at the Usha Herbal Resource Institute, an herbal "healing center."
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