Plus, Eriq La Salle scrubs out, Xena shows up on ''X-Files,'' and more

By Gary Susman
Updated August 01, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
Caroline Rhea
Credit: Caroline Rhea: Evan Agostini/Image Direct
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RHEA OF SUNSHINE Caroline Rhea has a new day job. The ”Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” costar and ”Hollywood Squares” regular will take over for Rosie O’Donnell when the Queen of Nice steps down from her daytime talk show desk in 2002 to spend more time with her kids. Rhea, whose own planned talk show ”Caroline” was stillborn, guest-hosted ”The Rosie O’Donnell Show” several times last season. It’s not clear what the revised show, on which O’Donnell will serve as a consultant, will be called, though Rhea has joked that her mother has suggested she make the transition smooth by just changing her own name to Rosie O’Donnell.

TUBE TALK Eriq La Salle plans to hang up his surgical scrubs at the end of the next season of ”ER,” the show’s eighth. He wants to focus on producing and directing movies, like his upcoming thriller ”Crazy as Hell.” His departure, along with that of Anthony Edwards, will leave Noah Wyle as the only original cast member who’s stayed with the show its entire run, though Sherry Stringfield, who starred in the show’s first three seasons, is returning this fall….

Now that ”Xena: Warrior Princess” has been X-ed out of the TV schedule, ex-”Xena” star Lucy Lawless will guest star on the first two episodes this fall of ”The X-Files,” with a possibility of returning later in the season as well. No word on when she’ll move on to another letter of the alphabet….

Luke Perry and Malcolm-Jamal Warner will star in the Showtime sci-fi series ”Jeremiah” as two heroes in a post-apocalyptic world a few years after a virus has killed everybody above the age of puberty. Of course, Perry has experience living on a planet inhabited entirely by twentysomethings, thanks to his stints on ”Beverly Hills, 90210.”

REEL DEALS The front-runner in the competition to direct the next James Bond movie is Lee Tamahori, Variety reports. The New Zealand-born director of ”Along Came a Spider” and ”Once Were Warriors” is said to be the top contender among half a dozen top directors. The new movie, which will be the 20th in the series, will star Pierce Brosnan again and should come out in late 2002, around the 40th anniversary of the release of ”Dr. No,” the first Bond film….

OK, Woody Allen and Diane Keaton were unexpectedly cute together in ”Manhattan Murder Mystery,” and it was amazing that Sean Penn got Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston to be in the same room together in ”The Crossing Guard,” but otherwise, it’s hard to think of a successful on-screen reunion of off-screen ex-lovers. So it’s hard to believe that Warner Bros. wants to cast Hugh Grant and Elizabeth Hurley together, and if that weren’t unlikely enough, the movie the studio has in mind is a remake of ”The Cannonball Run.” ”It may just seem like a gimmick,” a source close to the former couple tells, ”but anyone who has met them will bear witness to how funny they are together.” Naturally, Burt Reynolds would cameo in the film, set this time in a rally of private jets instead of cars, and John McTiernan (”Die Hard”) would direct. The movie would also reunite Tim Allen and former Tool Time girl Pamela Anderson.

First, however, McTiernan plans to direct the military thriller ”Basic.” McTiernan, who earlier this year dropped out of another ”Basic” movie, the now-canceled ”Basic Instinct 2,” was last represented on screen by ”The Thomas Crown Affair,” which starred Pierce Brosnan, whose new 007 director, Lee Tamahori, was originally supposed to direct ”Basic.” Got that?…

Kate Hudson may star in ”The Girl with the Pearl Earrings,” an adaptation of Tracy Chevalier‘s best-selling novel. She’d play the housemaid of Vermeer, the great 17th-century Dutch painter, who has an increasingly intimate relationship with her married master. Production is set to begin this fall on location in the Netherlands….

The ’80s continue to refuse to die, as plans shape up for an adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis‘s ”The Rules of Attraction.” James Van Der Beek will get to go to college in this one, along with ”A Knight’s Tale”’s medieval fashion plate, Shannyn Sossamon. Roger Avary (”Killing Zoe”) will direct….

Viewers who were appalled by the transformation of Dr. Seuss‘s ”How the Grinch Stole Christmas” from a simply-drawn children’s book into an overstuffed, garish, live-action movie will be relieved that ”Grinch” producer Brian Grazer has given up on the idea of a live-action ”Curious George.” Instead, inspired by the success of ”Shrek,” he wants to do a computer-animated version for Universal. Not coincidentally, the inquisitive chimp is the new mascot of Vivendi Universal, the studio’s parent company, which recently bought Houghton Mifflin, publisher of the ”Curious George” series….

After ”Greenfingers,” English gardening movies are spreading like kudzu. Next is ”Lily and the Secret Planting,” a low-budget romance starring Winona Ryder that starts shooting August 12 in London. In an adult twist on ”The Secret Garden,” Ryder will play a claustrophobic woman who blossoms when she helps a gardener secretly sow his seeds. Hettie McDonald (”Beautiful Thing”) will direct….

Reese Witherspoon is negotiating to star in ”Sweet Home Alabama,” though after the success of ”Legally Blonde,” Disney will have to meet her new asking price of $4 to 5 million. It’s a ”Breakfast at Tiffany’s”-like story of a woman who abandons her husband and her small-town life and becomes a New York socialite. Director Andy Tennant has experience with these Cinderella stories, having directed Drew Barrymore in ”Ever After.”…

FREE BIRD Speaking of Lynyrd Skynyrd, the band’s future is in jeopardy with the death on Friday of bassist Leon Wilkeson. The 49-year-old Wilkeson, who had missed some concerts over the last year due to illness, died in a hotel room in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., of natural causes, according to Judy Van Zant Jenness, who is the widow of the band’s original lead singer, Ronnie Van Zant. Wilkeson had survived the 1977 plane crash that killed Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and backup singer Cassie Gaines. With Wilkeson’s death, only pianist Billy Powell and guitarist Gary Rossington remain from the original lineup, but the band’s deal with Jenness states that the band must contain three original members to keep using the name ”Lynyrd Skynyrd.” To hold up its end, the band would have to rehire one of its estranged members, drummer Artimus Pyle or guitarist Ed King.

THE JIG IS UP Only a month after announcing he’d insured his legs for $50 million, Michael Flatley is reportedly hanging up his Riverdancing shoes. A spokeswoman said his appearance Sunday in Dallas with his touring show ”Feet of Flames” would be the 42-year-old Lord of the Dance’s ”last performance as a dancer.” Whether that worldwide sigh you hear is one of relief or despair is for you to decide.


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