- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 21, 2006

‘Sopranos’ strife

Several cast members of “The Sopranos” may demand higher salaries because HBO series producers added eight episodes that will air in January 2007, DenverPost.com reports.

Michael Imperioli, who plays Tony Soprano’s hothead nephew Christopher, Tony Sirico (Paulie), Steve Van Zandt (Silvio Dante) and Steven Schirripa (Bobby “Bacala” Baccalieri) are seeking new deals, the Wall Street Journal reports. James Gandolfini and Edie Falco have negotiated deals. Lorraine Bracco, who plays Tony’s psychiatrist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi, reportedly is close to a new deal.

Brush with fame

A new Web site could carry America’s fascination with celebrities and the art of product placement on TV to dizzying levels.

The site, StarStyle, allows fans of such shows as “American Idol” to buy clothing, furniture and other items they see on the programs, says New York-based Entertainment Media Works. The site began operating on Monday.

According to Associated Press, StarStyle has deals with several companies, including Sony, Warner Bros., ABC, Procter & Gamble and FremantleMedia and 19 Entertainment, the producers of “American Idol,” said Entertainment Media Works Chairman Jim Rosenfield.

Retail partners announced by Entertainment Media Works include Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Macy’s, Brooks Bros., Gap, Old Navy, Best Buy and Barnes & Noble.

The site enables visitors to shop by show, product category or brand name. They can pick a character on a featured TV show, and StarStyle will display associated products that can be purchased through links to other online sites. Also available: Virtual “set” tours that enable users to click on products for their descriptions and potential purchase, says Entertainment Media Works.

Chef flap rages

“South Park’s” Chef is back for tonight’s 10th season premiere, but whether the voice of soul music legend Isaac Hayes will be used for the character remains a mystery, TVGuide.com reported yesterday.

Mr. Hayes, 63 — a devout Scientologist who reportedly is recovering from a stroke he suffered in mid-January — last week announced he was quitting the Comedy Central series because of its past episodes poking fun at his religion.

According to yesterday’s New York Daily News, network executives are keeping mum about whose voice will be used in tonight’s episode, “The Return of Chef!” airing at 10. A flack for the show also told the newspaper that it is “undetermined” whether Chef will remain a character in the series.

‘Unit’ a hit for CBS

Though “American Idol” continues its dominance, CBS and ABC have seen some promising signs with midseason programming.

CBS’ new action drama “The Unit” drew more than 18 million viewers last week, finishing fifth among Nielsen Media Research’s most popular programs of the week, AP reports. The series follows members of a shadowy military strike force and their wives, who must keep their secrets at home.

Also, though it may be too early to declare the “Seinfeld” curse history, CBS is encouraged by the showing of Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ new comedy, “The New Adventures of Old Christine.” Two episodes shown last week both hit Nielsen’s top 20.

With more than 15 million viewers Thursday, ABC’s reality premiere of “American Inventor” also did well. One warning: The show aired opposite lower-rated college basketball instead of CBS’ potent “Survivor,” the usual time-slot competition.

The March 14 episode of “American Idol” drew an impressive 32.8 million viewers — more than 11 million over any scripted series on the air last week.

CBS won the week with an average of 12.2 million viewers. Fox was second with 11.6 million and easily won among the 18-to-49-year-old viewers whom advertisers seek. ABC averaged 9.4 million viewers and NBC 9.1 million. Following were Univision with 4.1 million, UPN with 3 million, the WB with 2.3 million, Telemundo with 940,000 and Pax TV with 540,000.

For the week of March 13 through 19, the top five shows, their networks and viewerships were: “American Idol” (Tuesday), Fox, 32.77 million; “American Idol” (Wednesday), Fox, 28.09 million; “Grey’s Anatomy,” ABC, 21.13 million; “CSI: Miami,” CBS, 19.01 million; and “The Unit,” CBS, 18.07 million.

Compiled by Robyn-Denise Yourse from Web and wire reports.

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