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Will Carmela Soprano have a lesbian fling next season?

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Edie Falco
Falco: Anthony Neste

LOVE, ITALIAN STYLE Leaking story lines about HBO’s Mafia drama ”The Sopranos” is akin to ratting out Don Corleone. Which makes the following rumor all the more juicy: Word has it that during the show’s third season (which debuts in March), long suffering Carmela Soprano (Edie Falco) will engage in a lesbian liaison with a tennis pro (played by ”Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2” hottie Erica Leerhsen).

Alas, no snitches at HBO would confirm the story: Leerhsen (who definitely is playing a gay tennis pro) was required to sign a confidentiality agreement, and an HBO spokesperson would not dream of singing like a canary. Reasons the flack, ””Sopranos’ viewers tend to enjoy the show a lot more if we don’t ruin it for them.” Can you say omertà?

IN COPS WE TRUST Now here’s a real crime: CBS goes out and burns nearly $1.5 million per episode to produce a sleek, new, high profile edition of ”The Fugitive,” starring Tim Daly as framed and desperate Dr. Richard Kimble. It gives the show the lead off Friday spot, spends tons promoting it over the summer, and — whaddaya know — it still gets clubbed in a head to head matchup by Fox’s low budget and lower brow ”Police Videos,” which costs a relatively meager $650,000 to $750,000 to produce. In fact, in the first three weeks of the season, ”Police Videos” has effectively drawn double ”Fugitive”’s audience among 18 to 34 year olds.

What gives? ”It’s reality,” says Paul Stojanovich, creator/ executive producer of the Fox hour. ”Everybody wants to see the real deal more than fiction.” CBS declined to comment on the ”Police” versus ”Fugitive” duel (though its recent decision to pick up the drama for the rest of the season was a sign of faith), but one media analyst sums up the show’s lackluster results thusly: ”Viewers must feel like ‘The Fugitive’ is yesterday’s news — been there, done that. I mean, how many guys named Richard Kimble can you give a crap about in a single lifetime?”

THAT SHRINKING FEELING Dr. Laura Schlessinger is not going down without a fight. The gay chiding talk show host, whose syndicated series is still struggling to find an audience (even after two retoolings), will be sitting for an exclusive interview with Maria Shriver for a November sweeps installment of ”Dateline NBC.”

In return for the potentially ratings grabbing interview, sources say, Schlessinger sought one concession from the ”Dateline” folks: No one else can be interviewed on camera for the piece. An NBC spokeswoman denied making any such deal. ”NBC News has a policy against cutting deals for interviews,” she said. Guess we’ll soon see for ourselves.

AND SO ON… NBC has bought a script for a proposed new ”Mad About You” style romantic comedy series exec produced by (drumroll, please) Paul Reiser. Paula Marshall, costar of last year’s David E. Kelley flop ”Snoops,” would star.

(Additional reporting by Lynette Rice and William Keck)

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