The latest news from the TV beat

— MAD MONEY So many headaches, so little time. Even as it scrambles to find a worthy replacement for Seinfeld, NBC finds itself in another sitcom quandary: trying to persuade Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt to sign on for a seventh season of Mad About You. The Peacock can ill afford to lose Mad, which has proven to be one of those rare shows that performs wherever it airs (NBC has used it successfully on Wednesday, Saturday, Thursday, Sunday, and now Tuesday).

Although both the net and Mad producer Columbia TriStar Television say odds are the show will return, the longer talks drag out, the more nervous each side becomes.

At first, the major sticking point was whether Hunt — who may snag an Oscar for As Good as It Gets — would exit the show to pursue movies full-time. But then, according to insiders at the studio, Reiser was proving to be an equally hard sell. Finally both stars indicated that they would sign up for one more year as long as they were assured the show would remain creatively sound.

So what’s the holdup now? Money, what else. Currently, NBC pays about $1.5 million per episode for the series. But Columbia TriStar wants NBC to pony up even bigger bucks to support the huge raises that Reiser and Hunt are expecting — word is they’re asking for $1 million each per episode, an increase of $750,000 apiece. (Gee, suddenly that $100,000 the cast of Friends each held out for doesn’t seem like much.) If they finagle that kind of money, Mad could end up costing NBC $3 million per episode next season. A hefty sum especially when added to the $13 million per episode NBC will shell out to Warner Bros. for the next three years of ER — an expense that industry insiders say is already cutting into the Peacock’s ability to spend on the rest of its lineup.

Columbia insiders anticipate a deal within the next few weeks and — barring some sort of ratings crash — they expect NBC to come through with the raise Reiser and Hunt are looking for. That optimism seems well-founded, especially since, at a recent press conference, NBC CEO Bob Wright showed just how much the Peacock worships Mad — he got down on his knees and prayed for Hunt and Reiser’s return.

— GETTING PITCHY In TV lingo, this time of year is what’s known as ”development hell.” The studios are pitching shows for next season, while under-siege network execs have to decide what’s worth betting on. A few of this year’s more out-there offerings: ABC, home of Ellen (for now, anyway), is attracting lots of gay-oriented shows — Darren Star (creator of Melrose Place) has a sitcom about a married guy who realizes he’s gay and gets a divorce; Warner Bros. has one about a gay man who inherits his deceased sister’s kids; and Paramount is shopping around a police show featuring — you guessed it — a straight cop and his gay partner. ABC was pitched two black female action shows — Black Jaq and Athena Hill (guess Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown made more of an impression on TV producers than on movie audiences). Columbia TriStar’s Rag & Bone, a ghost-cop drama starring Dean Cain (and executive-produced by Anne Rice), was earmarked for CBS, but according to show insiders, it’s more likely to end up DOA — or worse, as a movie-of-the-week.