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[Noth Inks HBO Deal]
[Steven Hill Leaves, Dianne Wiest Steps In]
[Other Casting: SVU Takes On Ice, March]
[How Much Law Can You Handle?]
[Et Cetera: Strike Means You're Out?; Plus: Scavenger Hunt Winners! ... and Setside Buzz!]

Noth Signs Bigtime HBO Deal

By Josef Adalian

HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - Mr. Big is getting bigger.

Chris Noth of Sex and the City has inked an overall deal with HBO under which the actor will star in a weekly series for the pay-cable network.

In addition, Noth has signed a seven-figure deal to produce and star in a four-hour sweeps miniseries for NBC based on the Steve Martini bestseller The Judge.

The HBO deal calls for the network to develop a series specifically for Noth or cast him in one of its upcoming series projects. The deal will not impact Noth's regular guest appearances on Sex as Sarah Jessica Parker's former boyfriend. Storyline considerations will dictate whether Noth will return to the show next season.

As for The Judge, the miniseries is based on Martini's 1996 novel in which Florida judge Armando Acosta is fired after being arrested for soliciting a prostitute. When a central witness in the case against the ex-judge is murdered, Acosta is suspected of murder and is forced to fight for his life.

Noth will produce the mini with Michael Jaffe and Howard Braunstein. He'll play a lawyer who comes to Acosta's defense.

There's no airdate yet for the production.

Next week, Noth begins a star turn in a Broadway revival of author Gore Vidal's The Best Man. He'll star opposite Charles Durning and Spalding Gray.

In addition to his Sex work, Noth is known for his 1990-95 stint as detective Mike Logan on the long-running NBC drama  Law & Order. He also appeared in Exiled: A Law & Order Movie, which scored solid ratings when NBC aired it in 1998.

Up next for Noth is the feature Double Whammy, a Tom Dicillo film starring Denis Leary and Elizabeth Hurley.

In the can for Noth are small parts in the upcoming Tom Hanks/Helen Hunt starrer Castaway, directed by Robert Zemeckis, and The Glass House.

Reuters/Variety REUTERS

Steven Hill Leaves Law & Order; Wiest Is Sworn In

It's official: Steven Hill is leaving Law & Order and Dianne Wiest is stepping in. Wiest, who will be playing the new district attorney, will be called either Nora Lewin or Renata Lowery, depending on two separate reports.

Hill has played D.A. Adam Schiff since the show began (and has appeared in every episode except the pilot, which was used as the series' sixth-aired show, "Everybody's Favorite Bagman"). His gruff-but-loveable demeanor made him a force to reckon with and a worthy foil for Sam Waterston's Jack McCoy and Michael Moriarty's Ben Stone over the years. Officially, Executive Producer/Creator Dick Wolf noted that the schedule had become too wearying for the 78-year old actor. "He does not live in the city," Wolf told Variety. "It can become wearisome." But as apocrypha noted in the Summer, 2000 issue, setside sources pointed to the recent death of Hill's father, and his desire to mourn in the appropriate Orthodox manner, likely played a very large role. Hill departed Mission: Impossible after the first season, in 1967, because his beliefs would not permit him to work on the Sabbath, so he is no stranger to giving up a lucrative job in order to practice his religion.

Don't expect Nora Lewin/Renata Lowery to be anything like Schiff, however. As Wolf told Variety, "If you're going to replace a character, you have to come up with a vastly different rhythm than someone who's been on the show 10 years and an icon like Steven. When you have to make that change, you want to make it with someone as bulletproof as you can possibly get, and at the same time very different."

Wiest, a veteran of Woody Allen's comedies, won two Oscars for Hannah and Her Sissters (in which she appeared with Sam Waterston) and Bullets Over Broadway. The 52-year old actress will still appear in feature films. As Wolf said to Variety, "I thought to make this kind of switch, we needed someone with a lot of bang. The first woman at the top of the list was Dianne. Quite luckily she was intrigued. Not in your wildest imagination could you pick up not only a single but a double-Oscar winner.''

Other Casting News: Special Victims' Unit Casts Ice-T, Stephanie March

In other interesting casting news, Ice-T will be joining Law & Order: Special Victims' Unit's cast as Odafin Tutuola, a veteran cop who will be partnered with Detective John Munch, played by Richard Belzer. Ice-T's Odafin will replace Dean Winters' Brian Cassidy. Winters departed to be able to concentrate more on his Oz role.

This isn't Ice-T's (aka Tracy Marron) first brush with Wolf: He's made guest appearances on the now-defunct New York Undercover, co-starred in Players, and appeared in Exiled: A Law & Order Movie. Longtime Ice fans will remember him as not only a former pimp but also as a wildly invented rapper who blended heavy metal attitude and guitar with the rage of hip-hop in Body Count and who was roundly slammed for his song, "Cop Killer."

Wolf told Variety, "Working with Ice is always a pleasure,'' Wolf said. ``He is a consummate professional, a great actor, a terrific person, and he has a great sense of humor. I am really looking forward to the chemistry (and most likely fireworks) between his character and Belzer's Detective Munch.''

Ice said he was pleased to be "on board such a cool show." Clearly, he hasn't been watching.

Additionally, SVU will be bringing aboard Stephanie March (from the recent TV adaptation of Death of a Salesman) as the so-far unnamed new assistant district attorney.

Even More Law & Order?

Law & Order and Special Victims' Unit may be getting a new sibling: Variety reported in early September that production on a third Law & Order-themed show could begin as early as December. NBC is interested enough to make a 13-episode commitment to the show, and as of now the show is speculated to utilize the law/order setup like the original series. SVU focuses almost entirely on the police half of the show.

The timing is canny: The Law & Order cast and crew are already working overtime to put as many episodes in the can in case of an (almost certain) writers' and/or actors' strike next spring. If they begin work in December, the series would have all 13 episodes finished by the time the strike occurred which might make it one of the very few brand new original series on the air if Hollywood strikes out. The new third series would also appear on the USA Network, outside of prime time, shortly after it airs on NBC much the way SVU currently does. If the third series is picked up and the new Wolf series Deadline gets a nod for a second season, that would give Wolf four series on NBC next season.

apocrypha predicts that by 2005 NBC will air Dateline every weeknight at 9 (except for Wednesdays to accommodate The West Wing) and a Law & Order series every weeknight at 10 (except for Thursdays to accommodate ER). Just you wait. Currently, Law & Order is secured through the 2004-05 season, and SVU is safe until May 2002.

Et Cetera

Well, well, well -- Et Cetera's ear to the ground is positively burning, so forget that we noted previously how there's not much gossip in the off-season. Hold on to your hat: Here's a peep behind the scenes of the next season of Law & Order that's so ripe, we just had to make an update (ah, the joys of the web) to our news page: According to setside sources, the L&O set isn't doing so hot without the longtime anchor of Ed Sherin (or Rene Balcer). With the first ep of the new season in the can, here's what's been seen by those in the know -- new Executive Producer Arthur Penn isn't holding things together very well, the writing hasn't really improved -- and relations among the demoralized actors and powers that be are at a point where there's screaming on the set. The lack of Sherin's firm guiding hand is clearly being felt. And here's another thing they haven't yet added to the first new episode -- an explanation for Adam Schiff's departure! Et Cetera is saddened and lighting candles that things improve. Perhaps it's time that Creator/original EP Dick Wolf take a little time off filling the rest of NBC's schedule ... and come home to check on the favorite son? ... And speaking of which, here's what the buzz is humming about the new "third" L&O series -- that it'll be exactly like the original, but from the criminals' point of view. We're just not sure about this one, either! Is it time to start howling at the moon? .... Although publicly the Screen Actors' Guild and Writers Guild of America are beaming sunny smiles to the press, indicating that discussion of possible strikes is "not conducive to negotiations," (as a WGA spokesperson told us recently), internally Hollywood (East and West) is a frothing cauldron of uncertainty. The WGA negotiates every ten years; SAG every three. But what has happened, particularly from the writers' standpoint, over the last 10 years can be summed up in two words: Internet, cable. Writers across the board (print included, although they would not be involved in this strike) have noted the proliferation of their works -- reruns on cable, repostings on the web -- and also notice that they are getting no extra money, while the networks continue to make a profit. The WGA contract runs out in May; the SGA in June. It is far too early to really get a grip on how the negotiations will fare, but an insider at Wolf Films indicated that they are already taping extra episodes to prepare for a strike, and says there's a "one percent chance" there won't be any strike at all. The source continues, "It's just a matter of how many years." Years? A memo being circulated amongst WGA members suggests it could go for two years, while actors are getting forwarded emails in a similarly-strident vein. It is unlikely that the strike will linger for two years, particularly if the actors side with writers (who will have the option to strike first), but it's hard to know. The flip side? Some insiders, like Chris Dixon, an analyst with PaineWebber, who spoke to the New York Post in August, said, "A strike for any of the guilds was a major issue 15 years ago, when you had four or five major studios and four TV networks. As the market has grown, the power of the unions is on the wane." The next several months will prove who has the bigger stick.... Meanwhile, in some good news, we'd like to thank everyone who entered apocrypha's Sex And The City scavenger hunt -- here are the winners: First place recipient of the second season of SATC on videotape: Elaine Chong; Second place winner of a SATC press kit: Jennifer Valvano! Congrats, ladies!

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