Celebrity news for the week of March 3, 2000

By Corey Takahashi
March 03, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST

That sound you heard was millions of teenage hearts breaking. Backstreet Boys Brian Littrell, 25, and Kevin Richardson, 27, announced Feb. 15 that they both plan to shuck bachelorhood. The Boys (who are also cousins) have been mum on details, but sources close to the group say Littrell’s fiancee is actress Leighanne Wallace (Wild America); Richardson is expected to wed Kristin Willits, a former Cher-tour dancer.

Former Brat Packer Charlie Sheen, 34, closed a deal Feb. 18 to step into the lead of ABC’s Spin City, replacing Michael J. Fox, who announced he’s exiting the sitcom to battle Parkinson’s disease. Sheen’s role is yet to be determined, but he’ll earn $2.75 million for the first of at least four seasons with the show, which is expected to move its production base from New York City to Sheen’s home, L.A. If Spin remains in its current Wednesday night slot, he’ll go head-to-head with his dad, Martin Sheen, star of NBC’s The West Wing.

After months of speculation, Steven Spielberg, 53, said on Feb. 22 that he was passing on the chance to direct the first film based on J. K. Rowling’s best-selling Harry Potter series, which Warner Bros. hopes to release in summer 2001. ”At this time, my directorial interests are taking me in another direction,” Spielberg said in a statement. The Oscar winner — still recuperating after the recent removal of a kidney for an unspecified ”irregularity” — declined to indicate what direction that was. He had been considering several non-Potter projects, including two sci-fi thrillers: A.I., developed by the late Stanley Kubrick, and 20th Century Fox’s Minority Report, starring Tom Cruise.

Julia Roberts, 32, is abandoning Disney to follow its former chairman, Joe Roth, 51, to the exec’s new unnamed film company. The deal pairs the industry’s most bankable actress with the man who oversaw such megahits as The Sixth Sense and Armageddon. Under the pact, Roberts will star in and produce three movies for Roth’s company over the next five years….The Muppets take Munich: On Feb. 21, German media company EM.TV & Merchandising AG announced it’s buying Jim Henson Co. for an estimated $680 million. EM.TV acquires such beloved children’s series as The Muppet Show as well as rights to characters ranging from Kermit the Frog to Big Bird. However, it will not own Sesame Street, which is produced by the Children’s Television Workshop.

Ally McBeal stars Gil Bellows, 32, and Courtney Thorne-Smith, 32, will leave the Fox dramedy at the end of this season, series creator David E. Kelley confirmed Feb. 16. Although both stars (who say they want to pursue other projects) will make occasional appearances next season, new characters will be added to fill their void. Another Ally star, Lisa Nicole Carson, 30, is still absent from the set following her Feb. 1 release from a New York hospital for an undisclosed ailment. ”We’re hoping she comes back soon,” Kelley’s spokeswoman says…. After 18 consecutive years and $380 million in ticket sales, the curtain will fall on the Broadway production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. The mega-musical, based on the poetry of T.S. Eliot, will close June 25 after 7,397 purrformances, making it Broadway’s longest-running show. Cats has pranced into more than 30 countries and still plays in London, where it originated in 1981. Though saddened by the news, the 51-year-old Lloyd Webber told The New York Times, ”18 is a great age for a cat.”