Monday, October 17, 2005

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NBC is renewing its ties with Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme, the duo responsible for “The West Wing,” Reuters news agency reports.

Late last week, the network outbid CBS for the pair’s very expensive new drama pilot. Instead of probing the corridors of the White House, the hourlong series will be set in what seems a lot like the peacock network’s own house.

A draft of Mr. Sorkin’s spec script making the rounds in Hollywood depicts the behind-the-scenes tumult of a fictional sketch-comedy show in the “Saturday Night Live” mold as well as the corporate culture of a TV network not unlike NBC.

The script, titled “Studio 7 on the Sunset Strip,” was pitched Oct. 7, igniting a bidding war between NBC and CBS that came to an end on Friday. It was the second high-profile script in as many weeks from Warner Bros. Television to trigger a tug of war in the broadcast world and result in a megadeal.

Earlier this month, CBS managed to beat out NBC and Fox for “Class,” a comedy spec script from David Crane (“Friends”) and Jeffrey Klarik (“Half & Half”) by making a 13-episode commitment.

Sources pegged the license fee for the Sorkin-Schlamme pilot well north of $3 million, making it one of the most expensive pilots NBC ever has ordered.

The prospect of NBC being back in business with Mr. Sorkin and Mr. Schlamme might have seemed unthinkable back in 2003, when the duo left “Wing” after reportedly butting heads with the network over the direction of the Emmy-winning series. However, according to inside sources, the backstage tussling was more internal and did not involve the network.

Life after Tony

The married writing team responsible for some of the most memorable — and gruesome — episodes in “The Sopranos” is trying to pitch new shows for network television.

Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess, who helped write the scene with Ralph Cifaretto (Joe Pantoliano) losing his head, among other gory incidents on the HBO series, have signed a three-year development deal with Paramount Television under which they’ll develop projects for CBS and other outlets, including Paramount Television, reports. Both CBS and Paramount Television are owned by Viacom.

The couple won Emmys in 2001 and 2003 for writing episodes of “The Sopranos,” the first for season three’s “Employee of the Month,” in which Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) is raped, and the second for the season four finale, “Whitecaps,” in which Tony (James Gandolfini)and Carmela (Edie Falco) split up. As executive producers of “The Sopranos,” they also shared in the show’s Emmy win for best drama series in 2004.

Their Paramount deal begins in June, after Miss Green and Mr. Burgess are free of existing commitments to the sixth season of “The Sopranos,” slated to begin airing in March.

SNL’ suicide

The death of Charles Rocket, a former “Saturday Night Live” cast member and animated voice actor, has been ruled a suicide, Associated Press reports.

Mr. Rocket, 56, whose real name was Charles Claverie, was found dead in a field near his home in Canterbury, Conn., on Oct 7. His throat had been cut, the medical examiner said.

“An investigation determined there was no criminal aspect to this case,” State Police Sgt. J. Paul Vance told AP.

The comic actor appeared on the NBC sketch show during the 1980-81 season, gaining some notoriety for being fired after swearing on the air.

He went on to appear in numerous TV shows, including “Moonlighting” and “Max Headroom,” and provided voices for cartoon series. His movie credits included “Earth Girls Are Easy,” “Dumb and Dumber” and “Dances With Wolves.”

Compiled by Christian Toto and Robyn-Denise Yourse from staff and wire reports.

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