'Sopranos' dispute may be settled

March 18, 2003 at 1:00 PM
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LOS ANGELES, March 18 (UPI) -- Hollywood insiders say HBO and James Gandolfini have resolved their differences, clearing the way for production to begin on a fifth season of "The Sopranos."

Gandolfini, an Emmy-winner for his performance as mob boss Tony Soprano, has dropped his lawsuit against HBO and the parties appear ready to renegotiate his contract.

According to published reports, Gandolfini will get a new deal that will pay him more than twice what he is currently making -- variously reported at $300,000 to $400,000 per episode. Gandolfini will reportedly get more than HBO had been offering but less than he had demanded.

Gandolfini filed suit against HBO in Los Angeles March 6, claiming that the cable network did not notify him in a timely manner that work would begin on the show's fifth season. The suit claimed that Gandolfini was not obligated to work on the show.

HBO -- which reportedly has agreed to pay the show's creator David Chase $20 million for the upcoming season -- called Gandolfini's lawsuit a negotiating ploy, aimed at getting the actor a better deal. The cable channel was expected to drop its $100 million countersuit against Gandolfini on Tuesday.

The settlement reportedly followed a private meeting between Gandolfini and Brad Grey, the show's executive producer, who once was a leading Hollywood talent agent.

Shooting on the series opener had been scheduled to begin on March 24, but was postponed indefinitely after Gandolfini filed his lawsuit. Filming is now expected to begin around March 31.

As he accepted the Screen Actors Guild Award for best performance by a male actor in a leading role in a drama series on March 10, Gandolfini seemed to offer an olive branch to his employer.

"HBO, I'm glad for what you've done," he said. "It's a wonderful place to work."

Speaking with reporters backstage, Gandolfini said, "I'm sure everything is going to be fine."

Gandolfini's co-star Edie Falco, who won the SAG Award for best performance by a female actor in a leading role in a drama series, said backstage that "The Sopranos" might be able to survive without Tony Soprano, but that wouldn't be her preference.

"I'm not very worried that the series might not happen," said Falco. "I think there are too many people who want it to. (But) I don't want to be there without him."

According to published reports, the new deal with Gandolfini would lock up the actor's services for two more seasons. Chase is only under contract to deliver one more season of "The Sopranos," but now there are reports that Chase might be onboard to create a sixth season.

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