Slater eyes Berg’s ‘Bad’ helm bow

Christian Slater is in final talks to star in “Very Bad Things,” a film by Interscope and Initial Entertainment Group that will mark the feature directing debut of “Chicago Hope” star Peter Berg from his own script, sources said.

Slater will play a groom who goes from a pending altared state to altered reality when one of his bachelor party guests kills the prostitute entertaining them. The incident tears apart a tight-knit group of his buddies. Berg’s script, set up at Interscope by BallPark Prods.’ Michael Schiffer, created excitement after a reading with Slater, Adam Sandler and Robert Patrick.

Still, vital signs for the “Chicago Hope” doc’s debut weren’t great until Interscope found a financier in Initial Entertainment, which nabbed distribution rights. Shooting starts in early 1998, and it marks the second time Interscope has raided the “Chicago Hope” cast for directing talent, after Vondie Curtis Hall directed “Gridlock’d.”

THE TV GUIDE ‘ER’ DRAMA CONTINUES: Let’s hope “ER’s” fall season has the level of high drama and surprises that are part of the show’s summer skirmish with TV Guide. The spat arose when Noah Wyle nixed a cover because castmate Eriq LaSalle has waited 18 months after posing for a cover for his article to run. When Dish revealed it, other newspapers like USA Today picked up the story, and escalated tensions with barbed quotes.

In a new development, TV Guide editor Steven Reddicliffe is extending an olive branch, surprising LaSalle and Wyle by including them on the Sept. 6 “Returning Favorites” issue cover.

Maybe he should have told George Clooney. Led by Clooney, the cast has fired off a letter to Reddicliffe, making clear the mag is still on the “ER” critical list. They especially took umbrage to Reddicliffe’s assertion in USA Today that LaSalle wasn’t telling the truth when the actor said he no longer wanted a cover that came as horse-trading to get access to castmates.

Reddicliffe denied that deal in the McPaper — even though Dish got ahold of a letter he wrote to “ER” exec producer John Wells, proposing to put LaSalle on the late December cover. “In order to make this plan a commitment, we ask that you give your extremely loyal ‘ER’ castmembers your blessing should they want to be featured in TV Guide some time prior to December 27,” Reddicliffe wrote in the July 23 missive.

Clooney, stumping for “The Peacemaker,” missed the first volley of charges, but his letter indicates he isn’t playing peacemaker here. “After reading your letter and talking it over we feel as though we cannot stand by while you accuse our friend and co-worker of lying,” he writes.

“This goes much deeper than you not thinking an actor should grace your cover. … In the three seasons that we’ve been on the air with one of the most successful shows of all time (both critically and economically), every cast member who started in the first season has been on the cover of TV Guide multiple times with the exception of Eriq LaSalle and Gloria Reuben. … Both have had immensely powerful storylines. Both have had multiple Emmy nominations (as have we all). So what specifically separates them? … The only notable difference is the color of their skin. But we’re sure there is another explanation. There must be.”

The letter then assails Reddicliffe’s USA Today denial of the LaSalle cover deal. “Part of the reason the show is successful is because we stick together. Eriq is an adult. This cast was not involved until you questioned our friend’s integrity. This cast is now involved. The truth is documented. And it is now your integrity that is questionable.” The letter is signed by Clooney, Julianna Margulies, Anthony Edwards, Noah Wyle, Gloria Reuben and Laura Innis.

The TV Guide braintrust was scratching their collective heads over the latest letter, figuring all parties would be pleased with the new cover. Reddicliffe was traveling and didn’t comment, but a spokesman said his editor’s letter to Wells came directly at the request of Warner Bros. and NBC to end the dispute quickly and that Reddicliffe never denied writing it. The spokesman said the new letter was “creepy,” mainly because it had no letterhead, and the FedEx return address didn’t match its place of origin, leading the mag to question whether it was genuine.

While Clooney probably should have his own stationery after that well-orchestrated campaign against “Entertainment Tonight,” the Caped Crusader indeed wrote it, and got all key castmates except LaSalle to sign late last week. Clooney declined comment.

TV Guide denies race plays a factor in cover choices, with Andre Braugher, Avery Brooks, Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jordan among those who’ve graced recent covers. LaSalle, who asked that his article be removed after being offended at being used as a pawn, hasn’t changed his feelings.

YOU KIDS STOP THAT FIGHTING!: Now that they’re making new episodes of the Nickelodeon animated series “Rugrats,” listen closely to see if there’s extra tension between the diapered tykes Tommy and Chuckie. Christine Cavanaugh, who is the longtime voice of Chuckie, also provided the vocals for Hollywood’s favorite pig, “Babe.” She got paid about $30,000 for the gig, but when the film surprised everybody by bringing home the bacon to the tune of $120 million worldwide, Cavanaugh asked for a raise for the sequel porker pic. Dish hears she wanted $200,000.

Enter E.G. Daily, who works alongside Cavanaugh on “Rugrats” voicing Tommy. After showing producers she could capably imitate Cavanaugh’s Babe squeal, she took Cavanaugh’s place at the trough for a mere $50,000 or so. Neither Rugrat would comment, but obviously these two competing porkers have a serious beef.

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