HBO is apparently prepared to go to the mattresses if James Gandolfini's contract dispute lawsuit against the network proceeds. Variety reports that HBO plans to file a countersuit on Tuesday over the ''Sopranos'' star's threat to walk, which would effectively shut down production of the show, scheduled to start shooting its fifth season on March 24.
Gandolfini's suit, filed last Thursday, claims that HBO violated a clause in his contract requiring it to notify him in a timely manner that it had contracted with series creator David Chase to shoot a fifth season of the series in return for a $20 million paycheck. He also said that additional shooting will violate the seven-year limit on entertainers' personal service contracts that is written into California law. HBO has countered that California law doesn't apply to Gandolfini, a New York resident, or to the show, which shoots in New York and New Jersey, though Gandolfini's lawyer has said the actor was a resident of California when he signed the contract. HBO also disputes the assertion that Gandolfini didn't receive timely notice of Chase's fifth season renewal.
Gandolfini's suit comes at a time when he was renegotiating his salary with HBO. Currently earning $400,000 per episode, he was reportedly seeking anywhere from $750,000 to $1 million per episode. (A seven-figure salary would put him in the same league as the ''Friends'' cast, though they shoot 22 episodes per year, compared to 13 for ''The Sopranos.'') HBO says a shutdown could cost the network $100 million. ''If he doesn't show up by March 24, he's going to owe a huge amount of money,'' said Bert Fields, the lawyer representing HBO. Ironically, that figure could bolster Gandolfini's claim that he's worth a lot more money, based on what he earns for the network.