HBO WHACKS BACK AT 'SOPRANOS' BOSS
HBO has told the cast and crew of "The Sopranos" that production on the show's fifth season is on hold because of a contract battle with James Gandolfini.
Filming had been scheduled to start on March 24.
Gandolfini -- an Emmy- and Screen Actors Guild Award-winner for his performance as mobster Tony Soprano -- fired the first shot in the contract dispute last week. He filed suit in Los Angeles claiming that HBO breached its contract with him by failing to give him timely notice about the start date.
HBO filed a countersuit, seeking $100 million in damages from Gandolfini if he doesn't drop his suit and show up for work when he's expected.
The New York Daily News reported Thursday that a source close to the contract talks said Gandolfini wants to be paid $25 million for 13 episodes that will make up the show's fifth season. HBO is reportedly offering to double Gandolfini's wages -- currently $400,000-per-episode -- in a package worth $11 million.
"Jimmy purports to care about the other actors, his crew," an HBO source told the News. "Well, he's about to put them out of work because he's a greedy pig."
The source told the paper that HBO will not allow Gandolfini to film even if he does report for work, unless he agrees to the cable channel's terms.
"We can enjoin Gandolfini from working for a long time," said the source. "And we will."
A spokesman for Gandolfini told the paper the actor deserves the money he is demanding.
"When you start referring to an actor who has made a network an inordinate amount of money as 'a greedy pig' and you publicly accuse him of blackmail, you make yourself look stupid," said publicist Dan Klores. "James Gandolfini isn't Tony Soprano. He's an actor with feelings and a strong sense of loyalty. He doesn't deserve to be treated with anything but respect."
THEY HAVE THEIR EVE
The Actors' Fund of America has announced that Calista Flockhart will play Eve Harrington in a staged reading of "All About Eve" in Los Angeles on March 30.
The all-star lineup for the fundraiser at the Ahmanson Theatre includes Emmy- and Screen Actors Guild Award-winner Stockard Channing as stage diva Margo Channing. The cast also includes Tim Curry as the acerbic critic Addison DeWitt; Blythe Danner as Margo's friend Karen Richards and Victor Garber as playwright Lloyd Richards.
John Ritter will play Margo's boyfriend-director Bill Sampson. Angela Lansbury will appear as Margo's personal assistant Birdie Coonan. Carl Reiner is producer Max Fabian, and Kirk Douglas will play The Distinguished Actor.
The top ticket for the reading -- the "Max Fabian Producers Circle" -- goes for $25,000. It includes front-row center Orchestra seats, a full-page ad in the program, acknowledgement from the stage, and invitations to a pre-show champagne reception and a cast party after the show.
Beyond that, tickets are going for anywhere from $50 to $1,000.
HBO IN TALKS WITH MICHAEL MOORE
The Hollywood Reporter said Thursday that Oscar-nominated filmmaker Michael Moore is in talks with HBO to develop a series for the cable channel.
Moore's gun-culture movie "Bowling for Columbine" is up for an Oscar for best documentary, and won the Writers Guild of America Award for best original screenplay. HBO did not comment on the report.
JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS GETS ANOTHER CRACK AT 'ELLIE'
NBC is giving another chance to "Watching Ellie," the Julia Louis-Dreyfus comedy that ran for nine weeks early last year before being pulled from the schedule.
The show returns to prime time on April 15 following "Frasier," for what the network calls its second season. Although the show failed to connect solidly with viewers last year, officials at NBC always said they had great faith in it.
NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker called Louis-Dreyfus "one of America's most likable and talented television stars," and said "Watching Ellie" would run for six consecutive weeks.
"We've been waiting for the perfect time to return this deserving and special comedy to NBC," said Zucker.
Louis-Dreyfus -- an Emmy-winner for her performance as Elaine on "Seinfeld" -- stars as a Los Angeles club singer struggling for both career success and personal happiness.
STARS LINE UP FOR OSCARS
Producer Gil Cates announced Thursday that Julia Roberts will be a presenter at the 75th Anniversary Academy Awards ceremony.
Roberts -- who won the Best Actress Oscar for "Erin Brockovich" -- will be making her fourth appearance as a presenter on the Oscars telecast. She was also nominated for Oscars for "Steel Magnolias" in 1989 and "Pretty Woman" in 1990.
The 75th Anniversary Academy Awards will be presented on March 23 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.
HIP-HOP SUMMIT URGES BUSH TO HOLD OFF ON WAR
Hip-Hop Summit Chairman Russell Simmons and President Benjamin Chavis have urged President George W. Bush to "win disarmament of Iraq without going to war."
In a letter to the president, Simmons and Chavis said Bush has already succeeded in getting the United Nations and other countries to see the need for disarming Iraq.
"As you approach your final decision on a war to disarm Iraq," said the letter, "we are writing urgently to recommend that you use your good office and stature as a world leader to win disarmament of Iraq without going to war."
Simmons and Chavis said war would prevent lasting peace in the Middle East and detract from important domestic issues.
"Domestically, Mr. President, rampant poverty is on the rise and the hopes and aspirations of millions of youth are being triaged on the altar of national neglect," they said.
"Now with the prospect of a multi-trillion dollar federal budget deficit, an unnecessary war on Iraq is only going to increase the cold damp hands of social dereliction that have a deadly choke hold on too many Americans across the nation."