MEGA-MERGER It seems that Time Warner’s merger mania is trickling down through its entities: Warner Music is merging with Britain’s EMI to become Warner EMI, the largest music company in the world. The specifics of the deal were unclear, although Reuters reports that Time Warner (EW’s parent company) will pay more than $1 billion to EMI shareholders to gain control of the board. The joint venture will now encompass the labels Atlantic, Elektra, Virgin, Capitol, and more, and therefore hold such powerhouse acts as Madonna, the Spice Girls, the Beatles, R.E.M., Eric Clapton, and Garth Brooks. With such huge holdings under the Time Warner-AOL umbrella, this could make AOL the biggest music distributor on the Internet, and analysts say this is a sign that soon most recordings will be sold on the Web.
OFF THE AIR Okay, all you arrested adolescents, now you’ve got no choice but to grow up: ”Beverly Hills, 90210” and ”Party of Five” will both end after this season. Impending cast departures, high costs, and dwindling ratings were all causes of their demise, according to Variety. Fox had previously announced that there would be 12 new episodes of ”90210” this summer, but according to Variety, that looks improbable now.
CASTING Catherine Zeta-Jones may be signing on to Steven Soderbergh’s ”Traffic,” a look at the high-revenue industry that is drug trafficking. The film is based on the acclaimed British miniseries, ”Traffik,” but the American studios had to change the title — to avoid computer spell-check issues, perhaps?… In the tradition of ”48 HRS.” and its countless interracial-buddy-movie rip-offs, Jamie Foxx will star in the comedy ”National Security,” playing a man beaten by a white cop who then teams with the officer wrongly accused of doing the beating. Makes you wonder who followed the Rodney King incident and thought, ”Imagine the comic possibilities!”… Jason Alexander has decided to act in the Fox Family soap satire ”Liquid Soap,” which he’s also executive-producing. The show will be live and interactive, so viewers can give suggestions by Web and phone. Hopefully the proposals of ”Can you get Jerry and Elaine?” will be kept to a minimum…. Liev Schrieber (”The Hurricane”) has joined Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt in ”Pay It Forward.”
REEL DEALS John Woo has signed a three-year movie and TV deal with MGM, now that his unproductive two-year first-look pact with Sony is over. Sony wasn’t thrilled with any of the ideas Woo brought, and he ended up not doing any movies with the studio, instead doing ”Mission: Impossible 2” for Paramount and planning two others with MGM (including the upcoming ”Wind Talkers” with Nicolas Cage). So, since he was already getting paychecks from MGM, he decided to pack up his white doves and move there full time…. ”King of the Hill” creator Mike Judge will direct ”Messiah Complex,” a comedy about a pious college student who starts to believe he was cloned from the Shroud of Turin. So if you ”Dogma” protesters were getting bored…
TO THE RESCUE Anthony Hopkins‘ London house caught on fire Sunday, but even though 75 percent of the second floor was destroyed, firefighters were able to save his Oscar. (No word on whether any pets were kicked out of the way in the search for the holy statue.) Hopkins does not actually live in the house anymore; he gave it to his estranged wife when he moved to California after their split in 1998, according to London’s Sun. (She was out of the house at the time of the blaze.) And we bet nothing makes her happier than knowing that the rescue of his Oscar is held up as the triumphant result of her house burning down.
SUNDANCE SALE Artisan Entertainment, the big winner at last year’s Sundance with its purchase of ”The Blair Witch Project,” made one of the first buys at this year’s festival. The indie studio paid a reported $1 million for the comedy ”Chuck & Buck,” about a lazy twentysomething who travels to L.A. to suck up to his childhood friend, now a successful power player in the music industry. The movie was directed by Miguel Arteta, who sold his last movie, ”Star Maps,” when he was at Sundance in 1997, but it didn’t make much impression when released by Fox Searchlight.
ON THE ROAD The Red Hot Chili Peppers used to tour with Nirvana, so it will be a reunion of sorts when they team with Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters for a joint tour that starts March 24 in Minneapolis. For now the tour is scheduled to end May 14 (in Portland, Maine), but the bands are likely to add more dates, according to MTV News.
SHORT LIFE STORY Take that, struggling screenwriters: Six-year-old Cuban refugee Elian Gonzales has only been in America for two months, and he’s already got a TV deal! CBS is planning a four-hour miniseries on his ordeal, but is holding off on writing a script until his fate is decided. But once he decides to stay or go home, producer Craig Anderson plans to put the project on the fast track, and is now trying to get rights from the U.S. and Cuban sides of his family.
OBITUARY Craig Claiborne, the first male editor of the New York Times food section, died Sunday at the age of 79 of undisclosed causes. Claiborne joined the Times in 1957, and is credited with popularizing restaurant reviews by making them more reader-friendly. He published 20 books on food, including the best-selling ”New York Times Cookbook.”