Rosie O'Donnell | Dianne Wiest | Billy Joel | Michael Jackson 

Rosie's Revenge: Will Sue Publisher

Rosie O'Donnell has made it official. She's counter-suing magazine publisher Gruner + Jahr, which yesterday sued her for a total of $300 million. 

She's not taking G + J's shenanigans lying down. In a press release sent out this afternoon, Lorna G. Schofield, one of Rosie's attorneys at powerhouse legal firm Debevoise & Plimpton, notes that O'Donnell has been working since Sept. 18, the day she announced the end of the magazine, to get the last two issues out in cooperation with G + J. But Schofield notes: "As soon as Rosie gave G + J all her articles for the December issue, they sued her." 

But now I've seen the letter Rosie sent to G + J on Sept. 18, and it's conciliatory and compromising beyond the pale. In essence, Rosie offers to split amicably with the magazine despite the fact that she's lost editorial control and has been usurped by new, unapproved staff members. 

"As we have discussed in the past, we encourage you to continue the magazine ... even though Rosie has made a significant financial investment in the magazine, she will not seek to recoup it if the parties part ways in a cooperative spirit." 

Gruner + Jahr's response was to sue Rosie. So much for cooperative spirit. 

In her letter, O'Donnell makes it clear that G + J lied to her consistently when she asked for certain staff members to be reinstated after being fired. But the worst thing she cites is a meeting at the Rosie offices on Aug. 15. The new editor, Susan Toepfer, refused to see Rosie and kept her waiting 90 minutes until the G + J lawyers showed up, ostensibly because Rosie was there with "other people." 

It takes a lot of arrogance for a newly appointed editor to keep a magazine's namesake waiting for an hour and a half. But I'm not surprised. During her reign at People magazine (and before that at the New York Daily News) Toepfer earned a reputation for being difficult and diffident. 

In 1995, I wrote about her in New York magazine's Intelligencer column. Toepfer is married to writer Lorenzo Carcaterra, the author of the book Sleepers. Toepfer had allowed Carcaterra to review mysteries for People in the years leading up to Sleepers' publication. She also reviewed books. And then, by coincidence, all the blurbs on the Sleepers jacket came from writers who'd received raves from both Toepfer and Carcaterra -- including Elmore Leonard, William Diehl, Jonathan Kellerman and John Katzenbach. Small world, huh? When I asked her about it she denied doing anything to help Sleepers or promote it. 

Just so you know all the players in this ongoing soap opera. 

Law & Order Finally Wastes Wiest

It was inevitable, and I wrote about it in this column quite a bit when it first happened. Law & Order executive producer Dick Wolf just did not like or get along with two-time Oscar-winner Dianne Wiest. Even though Wiest had been hired to replace Steven Hill, who retired as the show's District Attorney, she and Wolf could not see eye to eye. 

So tonight, Wiest is gone as the series starts its 13th season. She is succeeded by former Senator Fred Thompson, who was a lawyer and an actor before heading to Washington. He is more Wolf's speed, according to sources. Prior to landing Thompson, Wolf tried unsuccessfully to woo Donald Sutherland to the show. 

Law & Order is, of course, famous for its cast turnover, in particular among the actresses. Jill Hennessey, Carey Lowell and Angie Harmon have all come and gone from the D.A.'s office over the years -- sometimes without warning. Currently Elisabeth Rohm, who spent one season on the short-lived TNT series Bull, is acting alongside Sam Waterston

Rohm turned up, unlikely as it may seem, on the dais at Saturday night's Friars roast. When the Friars can't find enough comics for a roast, they add non-speaking guests to the dais from dramatic series shot here in New York -- such as the three Law & Order shows, Oz, etc. 

A pretty, articulate blonde, Rohm told me that Thompson being added to the cast has made the Law & Order set like "being in college, listening to him and Sam talk politics all the time." Having just ankled the U.S. Senate, Thompson evidently shares a lot of inside info with the cast about the war on terrorism. That should come in handy during tonight's season opener, which addresses the subject. 

As for Rohm, she has her own career plans -- considering how many times her role on the show has been re-cast. "I want to be on The Sopranos," she told me. "Spread the word. I think next season Tony should have a society-type lover. It would be great. I love that show and I'm desperate to be on it." 

Of course, Rohm could do both shows. One upside of the increased TV and film production in New York is that many actors now move among all the shows being shot here. Add the soap operas, and we have a nice repertory company of character actors -- all of whom are incredibly talented. 

As for Wiest, Rohm says: "She had her own sense of humor. I don't think Dick really got it, and vice versa. But she's a big movie actress. And she's going back to that." 

Let's Leave Billy Joel Alone 

One of my favorite singers, Billy Joel, has gotten quite a pasting in the press lately. First, the New York Times Magazine decided his music was meaningless and ephemeral, and portrayed him as lonely and desperate to find a date. Then Cindy Adams reported on Sunday that Billy was off the wagon and drinking again, spotted at Nello on Madison Avenue getting snockered in the afternoon. 

Well, since I know Billy took rehab seriously, I thought I'd check this out. Indeed, there was more to this than meets the eye. First of all, Nello Balan, the owner of said establishment, likes celebrity plugs in the papers. According to sources, he spotted Billy on Madison Avenue around 4 p.m. -- well after Joel had had lunch elsewhere -- and pulled him into his place. 

"A waiter immediately arrived with a glass of Champagne," says a mutual friend. "Then, a bottle. Billy sent the bottle back. And he left. The next thing he knows he's drowning his sorrows in the papers. It's ridiculous." 

You know, it is ridiculous. I'm trying to decide why Billy Joel -- friendly, affable, never rude, always polite, incredibly talented -- has become a celebrity target. I am told he returned to Nello's yesterday and complained about being used for publicity. Right on, Billy. 

Joel may not know this, and Nello's patrons may have forgotten as well, but Balan's business partner is a more interesting story than anything to do with Billy Joel. The man in question is Dennis Kozlowski, the wildly self-indulgent, free-spending ex-head of Tyco. When Balan opened his SoHo restaurant last year, Kozlowski was right at his side, living it up and boasting to one and all about his investment. I'll bet the Tyco investors who lost their shirts will now queue up for a free meal and maybe one of those free bottles of Champagne that Billy Joel turned down. 

As for Billy, he's working on songs that may become a new album. John David Kalodner, the production whiz who restored Aerosmith's glow, has been assigned to the project at Columbia Records. And Joel is feeling more and more confident about Movin' Out, the Broadway show featuring his songs and choreographed by Twyla Tharp. After a shaky start in Chicago, Movin' Out is said to be movin' up to the proper quality level and will surprise everyone on opening night. 

Michael Jackson to Start New Record Label

Jacko's backo. He's starting a new record label with the backing of a company that changed its name today from ID Medical Group to Opus Media.

A music business Web site, Hitsdailydouble.com, speculated that Jackson might be involved when Opus issued a press release today stating that they'd gone into business with a major pop star.

But a check by Fox 411 into the financial filings of ID Medical shows that back in May, when Jackson was freaking out about money and Tommy Mottola, he was busy making the deal with Opus Media's Robert Gordon.

From ID Medical's May SEC filing:

"The Label Agreement contemplates that ToolTrust and MJJ Ventures will form a California Limited Liability Company to operate a music label, tentatively called "Neverland Records." ...

"The Label Agreement provides recording artist Michael J. Jackson with discretion to grant or deny approval of any artist seeking to sign a recording agreement. Mr. Jackson also shall have final approval of all creative elements in connection with master recordings and videos. Ultimately, however, Mr. Jackson's level of participation with the music label (or none at all) shall be determined at his sole discretion. MJJ Ventures may "opt-out" of the Label Agreement if the music label is unable to secure a distribution deal or the music label has not substantially satisfied any material goals set forth in its business plan. Mr. Jackson may opt-out for any reason after three years. In any such case, ToolTrust is obligated to buy out MJJ venture's interest in the music label. "

What's very strange about this endeavor is that ID Medical may be risking its profitable online medical identification business if Jackson's venture proves to be a failure.

According to the same filing:

"The Company is in immediate need of funding to complete the music label venture described above and to carry out day-to-day operations, including funding of the online medical records business. If the Company does not secure financing to sufficiently fund operations, it may lose all amounts paid to MJJ Ventures. There can be no assurance that financing will be available when needed or on terms acceptable to the Company. There can be no assurance that the Company will be able to continue as a going concern, or achieve material revenues and profitable operations."

And here's another update on Michael Jackson's new label: Word is that Jackson's producer Rodney Jerkins will be in charge of the label, which may be distributed by Clive Davis's J Records.

Gordon, the CEO of Opus Media, is excited about his new endeavor with the weird King of Pop.

They met when Jackson tried to get Gordon to direct market his charity single "What More Can I Give?" last year. "Michael had the single and no one at his record company would cooperate and release it," Gordon said. "McDonald's had pledged $30 million to market it, but Sony didn't want it to interfere with Michael's album." 

At last we have an answer for what happened to the infamous single. This column reported the McDonald's connection exclusively last October. 

"We work with a lot of non profits," Gordon continued. "We have access to over a million people we can direct market to. One conversation led to another, and we realized we could market records to those lists ourselves." 

Neverland Records will operate on two levels -- as direct marketing and in record stores, distributed by Clive Davis's J Records. Rodney Jerkins will run the label for Jackson. 

Gordon has not met Jackson, by the way. All the deals were done through Jackson's agents and lawyers. 

And Jacko will not be the only artist on Neverland. "We're talking to three or four platinum selling acts," Gordon said. "Established stars who want to be part of this plan." 

Gordon said he didn't know much about Jackson's financial situation but it didn't matter since an investment bank has signed on to raise the $35 million capitalization. 

Stay tuned, because you know it will only get more interesting.

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