DEALS They'll still be there for you. On Dec. 20, NBC and Warner Bros. Television (a division of EW parent AOL Time Warner) announced a deal with Friends Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer for an 18-episode 10th season (down from the usual 24). The cast won't get significant raises from their $1 million-per-show salaries and reportedly will work around Aniston's plans to have a baby with real-life hubby Brad Pitt.
AILING Director George Armitage (Grosse Pointe Blank) suffered an intestinal illness Dec. 20, forcing him to suspend shooting on the Owen Wilson-Morgan Freeman thriller The Big Bounce in Oahu, Hawaii. At press time, production of the Elmore Leonard adaptation was set to resume Jan. 6, with plans to wrap on Jan. 13.
DEPARTURES On Dec. 20, Warren Lieberfarb, 59, credited as the ''father of DVD'' for his 10-year campaign to develop the format, abruptly exited as president of Warner Home Video after 20 years with the company. Warner reps would not comment on the reason for his leaving; Lieberfarb cites ''policy differences.''
COURTS On Dec. 24, Clint Eastwood, 72, filed a $10 million lawsuit against author Patrick McGilligan and St. Martin's Press, claiming their 2002 unauthorized biography Clint: The Life and Times wrongly paints the Oscar winner as a godless and abusive husband. McGilligan and the publisher could not be reached for comment.... On Dec. 23, pop princess Britney Spears, 21, sued Skechers USA for $1.5 million, contending the footwear firm exploited her in international print ads but failed to market Britney-branded skating accessories per a February 2002 pact. A lawyer for Skechers, threatening a countersuit, says Spears ''rejected design after design that was submitted for her approval, leaving Skechers out in the cold with nothing to sell.''
DEATHS Director George Roy Hill, 81, who teamed Robert Redford and Paul Newman in 1969's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and in 1973's The Sting (for which he won a Best Director Oscar), of complications from Parkinson's disease, Dec. 27, in New York City. Newman told reporters: ''He was the best friend that anyone could have: friend, mentor, enemy. He gave anyone a hell of a ride. Himself included.''... TV exec William Orr, 85, who ran Warner Bros. Television in the '50s and '60s and oversaw such series as Maverick, of undisclosed causes, Dec. 25, in L.A.... Actress Susan Marx (nee Fleming), 94, of a heart attack, Dec. 22, in Rancho Mirage, Calif. The widow of Harpo Marx had her gams insured for $1 million as part of the publicity campaign for 1932's Million Dollar Legs.... Clash frontman Joe Strummer, 50, of a heart attack, Dec. 22, in Somerset, England. (See Legacy on page 70.)... Playwright Frederick Knott, 86, who penned the chilling Broadway dramas Dial M for Murder and Wait Until Dark, of undisclosed causes, Dec. 17, in Manhattan. -- Jennifer Armstrong and Karen Valby