The stories of the lawsuits between James Gandolfini and HBO are more complicated than they seem.
For one thing, Gandolfini's agent, David Brownstein, of Writers & Artists Agency, also represents Sopranos actors Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Steven Van Zandt and Tony Sirico. Of the three, Van Zandt's deal for the fifth season is also not "done," according to my sources. This is because his touring schedule with Bruce Springsteen has conflicts with The Sopranos. I'll bet HBO wishes they'd closed Van Zandt's deal earlier.
Brownstein, who has represented Gandolfini for about seven years, could be portrayed as having The Sopranos over a barrel (not of a gun, but you get what I mean).
Brownstein is claiming that all of the actors on the show are supporting Gandolfini's efforts to get $1 million per episode of the HBO series, up from the $400,000 he gets now. But my Sopranos source says that isn't quite the case.
"Everyone here wants to get back to work. There is no divisiveness among the cast and crew. Everyone is here and waiting."
Gandolfini, a generally soft spoken guy, may have come under the influence of greedy advisors who think they can blackmail HBO. This is what some tell me. On the other hand, Gandolfini -- like a lot of TV actors -- is trying to get every cent he can during the show's heyday.
Many TV stars do not have big careers in film later on, and residuals are not that lucrative. Just ask Joan Collins, who gets nothing for Dynasty reruns 10 years later.
Indeed, HBO may have a lot of trouble selling The Sopranos into syndication. They've already met obstacles with Sex and the City. It's hard to rerun graphic sex and violence on broadcast stations at dinner time. That's where Seinfeld and Friends come in.
Meantime, don't believe those dire predictions of postponed shooting for the new season starting March 24. If Gandolfini re-signs -- and I bet he will -- The Sopranos is ready to go in a nanosecond.
Michael Jackson's loss of the Marcel Avram lawsuit is just the beginning of trouble, I am told.
Yesterday, a California jury awarded Avram $5.3 million for losses incurred by Jackson's canceling of concerts.
But my sources tell me that Avram is going to appeal certain parts of the decision. If he wins, his earnings could go up to $10 million.
The problem, though, is that Jackson doesn't have the money. One source close to the case joked last night, "What do you think we can sell this judgment for?"
The feeling is that a settlement might be reached in which Jackson would agree to flip the rights to a live TV special and an international tour to Avram, who would then take out his winnings in trade.
"You should see the list of people waiting for their money from Michael," my source said. "There's the Saudi prince, for one. And of course Myung Ho Lee, the business manager. And many more."
One problem here: Jackson's legal team has changed recently, making it harder for Avram to know who to deal with. I told you last week that Jackson's longtime lawyer, John Branca, is gone. I can also tell you that Zia Modabber, the litigator who represents Jackson in these cases, may have already been pink slipped by the new regime.
Chicago producer Marty Richards really got the royal treatment last night. First a sold out book signing in Manhattan for the tome that chronicles his Oscar-bound movie. Then, a wonderful 70th birthday soiree thrown by his pals Lady Sharon Sondes and her beau Geoffrey Thomas at their Park Avenue apartment.
Really, though, to call the Sondes digs an apartment does not give it its due. This is the kind of place you only see in movies, and then only Woody Allen movies.
Marty was greeted at the elevator (it opens into the apartment) by throngs of celebs and society types including Marisa Berenson, singer Lesley Gore, Ann Jones, Jonathan Farkas, Somers White Farkas, Rita Gam, Court TV's Rikki Kleiman, Bryan Bantry and Georgette Mosbacher.
Gore, by the way, didn't like it when I mentioned her old hit "It's My Party." But then the hired pianist played a whole version of it as she skipped by. You can't escape the past, it seems, especially when everyone remembers it so fondly.
But Richards almost missed his Chicago star Richard Gere completely.
Gere, tired of waiting for the book signing to be over, put on his coat, and headed downstairs. "If the women were a little younger, I'd stay," he joked. Well, to be fair, Berenson had not yet arrived.
Luckily, Richard and Richards crossed paths in the lobby, where Gere gave his "boss" a happy birthday hug.
I asked Gere if, now that he knew how to tap dance, he felt like doing it more often. "If it makes money for me, I do," he quipped.
Surprisingly, Gere had never danced before he started rehearsals for Chicago. Now he has the Golden Globe. And soon he'll film an Americanized version of Shall We Dance? with Jennifer Lopez. Life can be so strange!
Oh yes: Marty may be wondering what happened to Elaine Kaufman, the famed restaurateur who was supposed to be there. She's very sorry, Marty, but she had Richard Dreyfuss in one corner, director James Toback in another, as well as a very scary roundtable of power types commanded by authors Carol Higgins Clark and Rona Jaffe. She couldn't get away.
And as Elaine put it so succinctly: "We had Richard Gere the other night." But she wishes you a very happy birthday anyway, as do we all!