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Gandolfini starring in HBO film

Plus: Colleagues react to Merv Griffin’s death, George Tillman Jr. directing Biggie Smalls biopic, SNL’s Chris Parnell and Rachel Dratch tapped for ”Harold,” and more…

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Gandolfini starring in ABCD Camp
James Gandolfini is starring in the HBO movie ABCD Camp as Sonny Vaccaro, the marketing executive and corporate sports scout who brokered multimillion sneaker endorsement deals with NBA stars, including Michael Jordan, Lebron James, and Kobe Bryant. Gandolfini will executive produce through his Attaboy Films company. Dan Halsted also will executive produce along with Baron Davis, the star guard for the NBA’s Golden State Warriors who formed the production company Verso Entertainment with Cash Warren. Friday Night Lights screenwriter David Aaron Cohen pitched and will write the story about the youth basketball camp established by Vaccaro. Cohen will start work on ABCD Camp after completing HBO Films’ Dare to Dream, a drama based on the HBO documentary about the U.S. women’s soccer team that defeated China in the 1999 World Cup. (Variety)

Colleagues react to Griffin’s death

”I’m dealing with deep sadness and the realization that I will never hear that wonderful laugh of his again. He meant so much to my life, and it’s hard to imagine it without him.” — Pat Sajak

”This is heartbreaking, not just for those of us who loved Merv personally, but for everyone around the world who has known Merv through his music, his television shows and his business.” — Nancy Reagan

”He was the ultimate entertainer, businessman and teacher. Merv was a legend who could make you smile with a song, a joke, or his infectious laugh.” — Ty Treadway (host of Merv Griffin’s Crosswords) (Hollywood Reporter)

Tillman directing Biggie biopic
George Tillman Jr. (Men of Honor, Soul Food) has been tapped to direct the long-gestating biopic of the late hip-hop artist Biggie Smalls (aka The Notorious B.I.G.) for Fox Searchlight. Sean Combs, who first signed Biggie to a record deal in 1992, is on board to executive produce. Fox has started a nationwide casting call requesting anyone who thinks they resemble the rapper, who was murdered in 1995 in a drive-by shooting, to submit a tape. Reggie Rock Bythewood and Cheo Hodari Coker, a hip-hop journalist who wrote the biography Unbelievable: The Life, Death and Afterlife of the Notorious B.I.G., will pen the script. The movie will focus on Biggie’s personal life not seen in public. (Variety)

Chris Parnell, Rachel Dratch tapped for Harold
Saturday Night Live alums Chris Parnell and Rachel Dratch will appear opposite Nikki Blonsky (Hairspray), Ally Sheedy, and Cuba Gooding Jr. in Harold, director Sean Shannon’s teen comedy about a prematurely balding high school kid. Parnell plays the high school gym coach who torments the title character (Spencer Breslin), while Dratch plays the teacher who forces him to remove his hat, exposing his chrome dome to the world. Blonsky plays Harold’s fellow school outcast, Sheedy plays his mother, and Gooding (also a producer on the film) plays the school janitor who befriends him. Parnell is currently in theaters for Hot Rod, and next appears in Sony’s comedy Walk Hard. Dratch co-wrote, executive produces, and stars in Warner Bros.’ upcoming Spring Breakdown, which also features Parker Posey and Amy Poehler. She will also appear in two comedies: My Life in Ruins, with Nia Vardalos, and Love n’ Dancing. (Hollywood Reporter)

Corddry, Bell set for What Happens in Vegas …
Rob Corddry (I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry) and Lake Bell (Boston Legal) are in final talks to star with Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher in 20th Century Fox’s What Happens in Vegas…. The story is about two strangers (Diaz, Kutcher) who discover they got married after a night of debauchery. When one of them wins a huge jackpot with the other’s quarter, they embark on a series of plots to undermine the other and take the money, falling in love along the way. Corddry is set to play an attorney and the best friend of Kutcher’s character while Bell will play the best friend of Diaz’s character. Corddry recently wrapped DreamWorks’ The Heartbreak Kid for the Farrelly brothers, and will star opposite Paul Rudd and Liev Schreiber in ThinkFilm’s The Ten. He will also star in Paramount Pictures’ The Donor, which he is co-writing for Jon Stewart’s Bus Boy Prods. Bell has signed on to New Line Cinema’s Pride and Glory and Universal Pictures’ How I Met My Boyfriend’s Dead Fiance. (Hollywood Reporter)

CBS invests in online Big Shot
CBS Television Distribution, the unit behind Entertainment Tonight and Oprah Winfrey’s show, has taken a 50 percent ownership stake in Big Shot, an upcoming online talent search, which debuts this fall, from Madison Road Entertainment and Madonna’s Maverick Television. CBS will distribute the program through hundreds of local affiliate websites as well as on the upcoming CBS Audience Network. Entertainment Tonight will also incorporate an on-air weekly segment tied to the competition and promote the show on its own website. Big Shot pits singers, actors, models, comics, and athletes against each other in daily online popularity contests for the chance to be flown to Hollywood and get their big break. (Variety)

NBC shopping trimmed down Deal for syndication
NBC Universal is shopping a syndicated version of Deal or No Deal, which is cut down to 30 minutes from an hour, features a $250,000 top prize, instead of $1 million, and cuts back the 26 suitcases to an undetermined number. Howie Mandell would host the syndicated version, which is expected to get picked up in at least six markets and air alongside the new half-hour game show Crossroads, from Merv Griffin Productions. (Variety)

Paramount pushes release of Scorsese’s Rolling Stones movie
Paramount confirms that it has pushed the release of Martin Scorsese’s upcoming Rolling Stones concert film, Shine a Light, until April. It was originally scheduled to release on Sept. 21, but Paramount says it needs more time to coordinate marketing with the director and the band. The Rolling Stones are currently on tour in Europe. The movie was filmed in the fall of 2006 at Manhattan’s Beacon Theater as the Stones were performing their ”A Bigger Bang” tour. The concert features guest performances from Buddy Guy, Jack White of the White Stripes and the Raconteurs, and Christina Aguilera. (Variety)

John Moore rewriting, directing Airborne
John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines, The Omen) will rewrite and direct Airborne, an action movie set on an aircraft carrier, for producer Arnold Kopelson (Platoon, Seven, The Fugitive). (Variety)

Columbia taps Channing Tatum, Columbus Short
Columbia Pictures has tapped Channing Tatum (Step Up) and Columbus Short (Stop the Yard, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip) for an untitled buddy action movie produced by Neal Moritz. (Hollywood Reporter)


Ben Widdicombe: Kevin Federline was fired from a very small role in Keanu Reeves’ new movie, The Night Watchman.