TV WATCH It was down to the wire, but the cast of ”Friends” finally reached a deal with NBC Sunday for two more years of the No. 1 sitcom at $750,000 an episode. The six stars were pushing to up their salaries from $125,000 per show to a Seinfeld-size $1 million, but NBC execs reportedly told Warner Bros. TV, which produces ”Friends,” that it was prepared to lose the sitcom. According to Variety, NBC had even started to edit promos touting this week’s episode as the final ”Friends,” but of course, those won’t air now. As for Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox Arquette, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer, they will shoot 48 more shows through season No. 8 (2001-02). Their take home pay? A hefty $36,000,000…. Not all the Must See shows got such a great deal for next year. NBC switched ”Frasier” from its comfy Thursday night spot to Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. ”Will & Grace” will replace the psychiatric comedy on Thursdays, which will now include ”Just Shoot Me” at 9:30 p.m. Rounding out the post-”Friends” lineup is a new sitcom starring ex-”Wings” guy Steven Weber. The Peacock announces its entire fall schedule later today…. Steven Spielberg takes on yet another Holocaust story. This time, it’s the most famous account of the Shoah: ”The Diary of Anne Frank.” Spielberg is executive producing a three-hour TV movie tentatively titled, ”Anne Frank: The Whole Story,” for ABC. Based on Melissa Muller’s biography, ”Anne” would depict Frank’s entire life, not just her time in hiding. ABC and DreamWorks are considering the possibility of getting a corporate sponsor to air the project commercial free, the way Ford helped NBC present ”Schindler’s List” in 1997…. The USA Network has nixed ”La Femme Nikita” after four years. The drama, which starred Peta Wilson, will not be ordered for a fifth season, network spokesman Ron Sato said Friday. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Sato would not comment further on the cancellation.
LEGAL BRIEF A woman claiming that Jack Nicholson battered and seriously injured her in 1996 has filed a lawsuit to overturn a 1997 settlement she reached with the actor. Reuters reports that Catherine Sheehan alleges she and another woman were promised $1,000 each to have sex with Nicholson in October 1996. When she asked for payment later, Sheehan says the Oscar winner growled that he didn’t have to pay for sex, became violent, grabbed her by the hair, pounded her head into the floor, and threw her outside his home. The following year, Nicholson allegedly gave Sheehan $32,500 after she promised to drop the charges and keep quiet about the alleged incident. Sheehan’s attorneys say their client didn’t realize how grave her injuries were (totaling $60,000 in medical bills) when she agreed to the settlement. Sheehan says she has been unable to work since the alleged battery, and stresses that she wasn’t an escort or prostitute. Nicholson’s agent had no comment, according to Reuters.
STAR WARS ALERT Hayden Christensen, the 19 year old Canadian actor chosen to play Anakin Skywalker in the next two ”Star Wars” prequels, finally goes on the record. Christensen told Time Magazine: ”It’s awesome to portray a character who becomes Vader… I’m getting ready to go to the dark side.” Let the movie mayhem begin!
CASTING Pro wrestler ”Stone Cold” Steve Austin is in final talks to make his acting debut in the indie biopic of 1960s singer Janis Joplin. Austin will play a Hell’s Angel motorcyclist in ”Joplin – The Movie,” which stars singer-actress Laura Theodore in the lead role, Jennifer Tilly and possibly Roy Scheider, who’s also in negotiations. Writer-director-producer Joel Freedman based the script on interviews with Joplin’s family and friends.
REEL DEALS Producer Glen Tobias (”The Gingerbread Man”) is planning a $30 million sequel to the 1969 classic ”Easy Rider.” Production is slated to start this fall, although no casting decisions have been announced. Mikki Allen Willis (”Shoe Shine Boys”) will write and direct…. Director James Ivory, producer Ismail Merchant, and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (the team behind ”Howards End,” ”A Room With a View,” and countless other films) will collaborate next on an adaptation of Diane Johnson’s best-selling novel ”Le Divorce.” Ivory, whose drama ”The Golden Bowl” debuts at Cannes today, announced that the trio will work on the screenplay this fall. ”Divorce” is the contemporary story of Isabel Walker, a film-school dropout who travels from California to Paris to support her step-sister during her, you guessed it, divorce.
ON BROADWAY The Drama Desk Awards honored ”Copenhagen” as the best play and ”Contact” as the best musical Sunday night. An organization of theater journalists and critics, the Drama Desk also awarded the revival of ”Kiss Me Kate” six awards, more than any other show. It won best musical revival, best actor, director, set design, costume design, and orchestrations. ”Kate” director Michael Blakemore won a second directing award for Michael Frayn’s ”Copenhagen.” Other winners included: Tom Stoppard’s ”The Real Thing” (best revival-play), ”Aida” star Heather Headley (best actress, musical), and ”Contact” guest star Karen Ziemba (best featured actress, musical).
OBIT Craig Stevens, who played the title character in the 1950s drama ”Peter Gunn,” has died of cancer. He was 81. Stevens died Wednesday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, a hospital spokeswoman announced Friday. ”Peter Gunn,” which was created by a young Blake Edwards (”The Pink Panther”), debuted in 1958 and stayed on the air until 1961. Stevens, who later re-created Gunn in a 1967 film, was last seen in Edwards’ Hollywood satire ”S.O.B.” in 1981 and in the 1988 TV special, ”Marcus Welby, M.D.: A Holiday Affair.”