updated 02/05/2001 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/05/2001 AT 01:00 AM EST

Trying to Rewrite Their Roles
Seeking better pay and a little r-e-s-p-e-c-t, TV and movie scribes may sign off this spring


Get ready for déjá view all over again. After months of ominous predictions, negotiations have begun between the people who write for the movie and TV industry and the executives who buy their work. The 11,000-member Writers Guild of America wants more income from reruns, videotape and DVD sales, as well as improved "creative rights" (read more attention and credit). Failure to reach a deal with producers before the contract expires May 1 could lead to a strike with immediate consequences, particularly on TV. (The impact at the movies would be felt more gradually.) That's right: No more Top 10 Lists on The Late Show. Kiss daytime soaps goodbye. Say hello to endless reruns.

Though WGA rep Cheryl Rhoden dismisses strike fear as "hype whipping itself into a frenzy," the TV industry is bracing for the worst. For example, as host and head writer for The Tonight Show, Jay Leno would be barred from writing material for his own show, forcing him–and competitors Letterman and Politically Incorrect–into either interview-heavy formats or reruns. Says Leno, who serves up preshow meals for his team of writers: "I'll still be cooking dinner, but it'll be marinara instead of meat sauce." For now, says a show spokeswoman, "he's waiting for direction from the Guild."

Leaner times in prime time would likely hit next fall, when series sputter out of new episodes. Says CBS rep Chris Ender: "Our news magazines are preparing to ramp up; we have reality programming in development; our movies of the week are producing earlier."

NBC's crisis planning has been a mixed success. According to a story in Variety, Law & Order producer Dick Wolf has agreed to bank extra episodes by May. But WGA's West Coast president John Wells, who executive produces The West Wing, Third Watch and ER (whose star Anthony Edwards, incidentally, just announced he'll be quitting after the 2001-02 season), has declined a request to rush production on those shows.

For an industry already suffering from declining viewership, a strike is seen by some as mutually assured destruction. Explains Studios USA president David Kissinger: "It's as if the orchestra on the Titanic decided to start drilling holes in the ship just as the iceberg appeared."

The Happy Neverweds?
The silver lining in Courtney Thorne-Smith's breakup with genetic scientist Andrew Conrad may amount to this: No need for tedious paperwork now that the relationship is over. The couple exchanged vows at an impromptu June 1 ceremony in Hawaii without a marriage license. "They told me they were going to have a big wedding later in L.A. to make it official, so it was not a concern," says Rev. Michael Gannon, who presided over the celebration of their union. It turns out they never obtained the license in Hawaii–"If they got a license here, I would have had to sign it because I performed the ceremony," says Gannon–and there are no records that they got one in Los Angeles either. The actress's rep, Jim Broutman, can't confirm if a valid license was ever completed. "I haven't spoken to her since [the split]," he says. "I don't know the answer." If Thorne-Smith never found the time to legalize the union, she may have found an alternative to the Hollywood pattern of turbo-breakups and nasty divorces: Stay away from the dotted line. Says Los Angeles divorce lawyer Lynn Soudik: "If there's no license, you are not married in the eyes of the law. If both parties knew it wasn't a legal marriage, then they don't need to actually get divorced." One possible hitch: If the former couple have any community property and are unable to agree on who gets what, they could resolve their dispute with a civil lawsuit like any other squabbling individuals.

Duncan Hirsutes Up for Apes Remake
Last seen playing a hit man in The Whole Nine Yards, hulking actor Michael Clarke Duncan may have just found his ultimate tough-guy role. The 6'5", 315-lb, Duncan, nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his turn in 1999's The Green Mile, will shed all humanity as a man-loathing ape warrior in Tim Burton's update of the 1968 classic Planet of the Apes. Making an ape cameo: Charlton Heston, a human in the original flick.

The Practical Pants Suit
The bitter, personal fight between Calvin Klein and clothing manufacturer Warnaco CEO Linda Wachner over where his jeans could be sold concluded Jan. 22 with a private, out-of-court settlement–and an exchange of kisses between the designer and the woman he once called "a cancer" on his brand. (She countersued for defamation.) The deal allows Warnaco to continue producing CK jeans but, reports said, limits their availability at warehouse stores, which Klein believes sullies his cachet. The, peaceful end saddened some. Says an insider: "It would have been almost as good as; Ali and Frazier."

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Free on Weekends
As surely as night follows day, Saturday Night Live cast members eventually split for Hollywood. The latest departure: Molly Shannon, who after seven years of playing roles ranging from klutzy Catholic schoolgirl Mary Katherine Gallagher to Monica Lewinsky, will leave SNL after the Feb. 17 show to pursue a full-time movie career. Says SNL boss Lome Michaels: "Molly is as good as 3 anyone who's ever done the show."


What would you pay to use the kitchen where Julia Roberts cooked in Erin Brockovich? Skip Royston hopes the experience is worth $289,999–his asking price for the 1,181-sq.ft., three-bedroom bungalow in Ventura, Calif., where scenes from the movie were filmed. Aware of its cinematic history, Royston bought the place nine months ago for $233,500, renovated it, and hopes to cash in. "If you had the world's highest-paid actress shoot a movie in your home," he figures, "wouldn't you ask a little more?" The real Brockovich, who lives about 20 minutes away, was amused, saying, "I just don't know what to make of people."

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