G. Rae Wock
January 22, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

CASTING NEWS Claire Danes will star in the Robert De Niro-produced “Conjugating Niki” as a spoiled Manhattan rich kid whose parents go broke, forcing her to take a job babysitting a girl who reminds her of her pampered former self…. Meanwhile, Danes’ “My So-Called Life” costar Jared Leto will star in “Requiem for a Dream” as a young junkie who heads to New York with the dream of opening his own club. Leto is also in final negotiations to join the cast of “American Psycho” with Christian Bale…. Billy Crudup (“The Hi-Lo Country”) has taken the lead of “Jesus’ Son,” an indie road movie about a man and his spookily charismatic lover. Dennis Hopper and Holly Hunter have supporting roles…. Gloria Reuben (“ER”) is going from the emergency room to the dressing room as the lead in VH1’s TV movie “Sara,” in which she’ll play a struggling singer who undergoes a complete physical and musical makeover in order to succeed…. And there’s been yet another addition to the cast of Curtis Hanson’s “Wonder Boys”: Tobey Maguire (“Pleasantville”) is joining Michael Douglas, Frances McDormand, and Robert Downey Jr.

EXIT STAGE LEFT After accepting the job emceeing the Grammys this year, Rosie O’Donnell announced she will be too busy to host the Tonys this June. With O’Donnell in the Broadway spotlight for the past two years, the Tonys had taken a huge ratings leap.

SWEEPS SWITCHES One day after NBC announced it would pull its regular Wednesday comedies for February Sweeps, CBS declared it would pull ITS Wednesday-night sitcoms “The Nanny” and “Maggie Winters” for the ratings period. The network will replace the struggling shows with specials, including ones with Tara Lipinski and Shania Twain, and, of course, the Grammys. Part of the motivation for the substitution was reportedly to give a stronger lead-in to “60 Minutes II.”

REEL DEAL Tom Fontana, the creative mind behind “Homicide” and “Oz,” is producing “Hardwood,” a new series for Showtime about NBA players and coaches.

UN-REEL DEAL After developing the project for three years, writer-director Ron Shelton (“Bull Durham”) has bowed out of Warner Bros.’ Bob Marley biopic, reportedly because the studio wanted the movie to be shorter and cheaper than he had planned. George Armitage (“Grosse Pointe Blank”) may take over the project, rewriting Shelton’s script, but he would need the approval of the late reggae singer’s widow, who is coproducing the film and reportedly loved Shelton’s vision.

JOB SWITCH Paula Zahn is leaving CBS to join the Fox News Channel; she will anchor its 7 p.m. newscast, “The Fox Report.” Zahn cohosted “CBS This Morning” from 1990 to ’96 and currently heads CBS’s Saturday-night newscast. She begins at Fox on March 1.

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