CASTING James Van Der Beek will film the Western ”Texas Rangers” during his ”Dawson’s Creek” hiatus. He and costar Dylan McDermott (”The Practice”) will play members of a gang formed to clean up the West after the Civil War. The script has been kicking around the studios for years and was originally supposed to be made by Sam Peckinpah before he died in 1984…. Dennis Rodman, who joined the Lakers so he could kick-start an acting career, will tape a cameo for CBS’s ”L.A. Doctors.” It’s unclear whether Rodman will play himself or a patient, or – if it’s a psychiatric patient – both…. Tom Sizemore (”Saving Private Ryan”) will join Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas in the boxing film ”Play It to the Bone.” Sizemore will play a promoter who hypes a match between two fading fighters. Ice-T has joined the UPN pilot ”The Disciples,” a martial-arts drama by Kirk Wong, director of ”The Big Hit.”
OSCAR WATCH The Academy Awards was supposed to get a ratings boost by moving to Sunday night, but instead its numbers dropped 17 percent from last year, according to early Nielsen estimates. ABC reps, who estimate the fall at closer to 10 percent, blame the comparative drop on Oscar hog ”Titanic”’s unusual popularity last year and point to the fact that Sunday night’s numbers were up 4 percent from 1997’s ratings. However, 1997’s broadcast was the lowest-rated in a decade.
OBITUARY David Strickland, who played the rock critic Todd on ”Suddenly Susan” since 1996, was found dead in a Las Vegas hotel room yesterday, apparently having hanged himself. Strickland, 28, is also currently appearing with Sandra Bullock in ”Forces of Nature.”
REEL DEALS Kevin Costner’s Cuban Missile Crisis drama ”13 Days” continues to be bounced around, but this time its likely to land at New Line, with Francis Ford Coppola directing. Coppola would be the third director to consider the film – after Phil Alden Robinson (”Field of Dreams”) and Martin Campbell (”The Mask of Zorro”).
CONCERT NEWS R.E.M., who originally claimed they wouldn’t tour to support their album ”Up,” has just announced a string of summer concerts, their first substantial series of shows since 1995. The band kicks off the tour on August 8 in Los Angeles, and among the opening acts will be Wilco and Spacehog…. Starting April 2 in Winston-Salem, N.C., Marilyn Manson will replace its former opening act, Hole, with Nashville Pussy.
LAWSUIT The company that controls Teletubbies merchandise is suing Wal-Mart for copyright infringement for selling what it calls a Tubbies rip-off, the Bubbly Chubbies. The Bubbly dolls are four creatures that look like aliens in hooded suits, just like the Teletubbies, and the packaging is also similar. Wal-Mart has been putting the lower-priced kiddie toys on shelves right next to the Tubbies.
RECUPERATING Prodigy’s Keith Flint damaged ligaments in his leg during a professional motorcycle race last week, when he skidded off the track at 120 mph and hit a barrier. He is recovering nicely, and appeared with the band (and with a bandage) at a Cape Town, South Africa concert on Monday…. ”The People’s Court” host and former New York mayor Ed Koch, 74, plans to return to taping tomorrow after being rushed to the hospital while working out at a gym yesterday morning. Doctors attributed his temporary illness to low blood pressure.
TV DEATHWATCH If the Olsen twins are acting cutesy-pie, but nobody can see their show, do they still make a syrupy-sweet sound? We’ll find the answer to that philosophical question now that ABC has yanked their show ”Two of a Kind” off the Friday-night schedule. ABC hasn’t officially declared it canceled, but since the network will finish airing all of the original episodes before May sweeps, it seems unlikely to come back. Reruns of ”Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place” will take its place on April 2…. Although NBC originally claimed it would be canceling only one of its soaps, either ”Another World” or ”Sunset Beach,” now sources tell Variety that the network may yank them both. (An NBC rep denied the rumor.) NBC will be adding another soap, ”Passions,” to its schedule this summer, and will hold on to ”Days of our Lives.”