Ted Turner, who once tried to invade Hollywood with previous runs at both MGM and Paramount, looks like he’ll shortly realize his dream of being a Hollywood player. As Turner comes close to completing his acquisition of Castle Rock Entertainment, he’s also in advanced stages of negotiations to acquire New Line Cinema, the highly successful film distributor.

Fulfilling his dream won’t be cheap: An acquisition of both Castle Rock and New Line could cost Turner something close to half a billion dollars. Turner would likely need the approval of such powerful board members as TCI’s John Malone to pull off the deals.

As much as Turner wants Castle Rock for its proven record of turning out blockbuster films (including “In the Line of Fire,””A Few Good Men” and “Misery”), DISH hears, he’s equally enamored of New Line for its established distribution operation.

New Line also boasts a substantial library of hits — notably the “Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” films, as well as, through its Fine Line Division, such class hits as “The Player.” Both Castle Rock and New Line come with stable and respected management teams.

Turner has long been interested in being a feature player. In 1985, when his bid to acquire CBS was foiled, Turner made a deal with Kirk Kerkorian to buy MGM for $ 1.5 billion, selling back UA and the MGM logo for $ 780 million. But Turner only held onto MGM for 74 days, not getting to give even a single green light on a feature. And the one finished film he tried to acquire — the Australian import “Crocodile Dundee”– went for naught, as the producers rejected his bid in favor of a lower one from Paramount.

While Turner’s inhouse Turner Pictures continues to beef up the level of productions with the miniseries “Battle of Gettysburg,” and such development properties as an Amelia Earhart biopic starring Diane Keaton, clearly the purchase of both Castle Rock and New Line would put him in the big leagues.

The big question is whether NL founder Bob Shaye — who owns 25% of the publicly traded company’s stock — and his right-hand man, Mike Lynne, would want to cash out and work for someone else. Both are known to relish their independent status. Then again, few thought that Harvey and Bob Weinstein would do that either, until Disney swallowed up Miramax at a hefty price in the neighborhood of $ 82 million.

Shaye and Lynne weren’t sharing those feelings with DISH, and didn’t return calls. Turner also declined comment.

LADDIE LUNCHING? Just before the Heidi Chronicles became the only story of interest to the Hollywood media, there was the MGM/UA restructuring. Pardon DISH if we return to that small story for a moment.

We hear that while deposed MGM chieftain Alan Ladd Jr. continues to show up for work each day until his contract is settled for a hefty sum, he has met with Paramount topper Sherry Lansing. Sources say the discussion has turned to him joining Par as a producer. It would be a comfortable fit, since Ladd has a good relationship with both Lansing and production head John Goldwyn.

Through a spokeswoman, Lansing said that while Ladd is a good friend, and that she thinks the world of him, they just had a social lunch. Ladd adds that he’s not looking for a job right now.

DIANA DISH: Diana Ross, inactive as an actress since “The Wiz,” has jumped back into the acting biz with a vengeance. Though ABC is trying to keep it hush-hush, DISH hears that Ross started work this week on her first TV movie in herthree-pic deal with ABC. Called “Out of Darkness,” the pic stars Ross as a schizophrenic. It’s being done by ABC Prods., with Andy Adelson exec producing. It’s a non-singing role.

We also hear that Ross will start work next year on her second ABC movie, network sources say. This one’s the true story of Valaida Snow, an American singer who, while in Europe, was captured by the Nazis and was the only American black woman to be thrown into a concentration camp. The latter film is to be done through Universal by Storyline Prods., with Ross, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron as exec producers. Calls to Storyline went unreturned, and Ross’ publicist wouldn’t comment.

MIKE’S SHOCKER: While the Heidi Chronicles have taken some bizarre turns, the strangest was Columbia president of worldwide production Michael Nathanson’s decision to release a statement from his lawyer, Howard Weitzman, denying he had any dealings with alleged madam Heidi Fleiss.

While his name was oft-rumored, it seemed like respectable media wouldn’t have named him or Columbia without hard evidence. The denial gave the press fair cause to add his name to an increasingly ugly story. Col sources were stunned, and it certainly seems that Nathanson is now perfectly placed to take a fall.

Others caution that Nathanson has survived at Columbia by being smart — indeed, his was the lone voice arguing against making “Last Action Hero” when the studio bought it. Some feel he was forced to make a statement to forestall a more damaging story by the L.A. Times.

Lisa Henson’s imminent but long-planned entrance into Nathanson’s job had little to do with the Heidi scandal. But the awkward timing has left many wondering about Nathanson’s ascension into a new position with an unspecified title. Col wouldn’t comment.

WHITE MAN JUMPING TO WB? The buzz around town has “White Man Can’t Jump” director Ron Shelton jumping over to Warner Bros. with an overall deal. Shelton most recently wrote and exec produced Paramount’s “Blue Chips.”

How did WB woo him? DISH hears the studio’s decision to pick up his beloved Ty Cobb biopic, which Fox put in turnaround, was a shrewd one. Though the Hall of Famer is hardly a sympathetic character, neither was Jake LaMotta in “Raging Bull.”

GET ME REWRITE! Studio book rights buyers are poring over an interesting manuscript this week. It’s a highly uncommercial and dark tale of incest, necrophilia and murder, 400 pages of dense Elizabethan prose.

Why the interest? It’s “Cardenio,” said to be a play written in 1613 by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher.

The 400-page manuscript has been translated and authenticated by literary historian and handwriting analyst Charles Hamilton, best known as the guy who proved the Hitler Diaries were fake. He’s confident some of the play was written in Shakespeare’s own hand.

Peter Miller, president of PMA Literary & Film Management, is handling the rights to the play, which will be published, along with documentation authenticating the prose, by Olenbridge Publishing.

“It’s a beautifully written play on a taboo subject,” says Miller.

What are the commercial prospects? One studio source said the subject matter would prompt them to take a pass. DISH thinks that Shakespeare would hardly mind if the studio brought in Bill Goldman for a total rewrite. This guy’s no Grisham.

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