NEW YORK — “The Commitments” director Alan Parker has committed to return to Irish soil and direct “Angela’s Ashes,” an adaptation of Frank McCourt’s bestselling memoir, for Paramount Pictures. Parker will produce the film with Scott Rudin and David Brown, with filming to start in the fall.

Though the book has been at or near the top of the bestseller lists for 78 weeks in hardcover, the studios were cold on the property when Rudin and Brown first expressed interest; in fact, the producers used their own money. It is, after all, the story of an Irish boy growing up in abject poverty, with a drunken father and siblings who drop like flies because they are so badly neglected. But the story also is laced with humor, telling the uplifting saga of McCourt’s emigration to the U.S.

Now that McCourt has won the Pulitzer Prize and become one of Gotham’s most celebrated authors and the book has been an international bestseller for Scribner’s, “Angela’s Ashes” has become a high-profile project. Parker, who was able to convey the charm of working-class kids in “The Commitments,” seems an ideal match for the material. Paramount is now in talks to turn the film into a co-production with Poly-gram — where Parker’s Dirty Hands Prods. is based — with Paramount handling domestic distribution rights and Polygram foreign.

Parker committed on the basis of the script, which was written by McCourt and Laura Jones, whose credits include “Oscar and Lucinda,” “Portrait of a Lady” and “A Thousand Acres.” Parker’s repped by CAA.

NBC’S BAD BETTE?: Since Dish first revealed that Carsey-Werner-based “3rd Rock From the Sun” creators Bonnie and Terry Turner were hatching a sitcom for Bette Midler, every network has been salivating, even though Midler wanted to wait to see a script before actually committing to her first series starring role.

Dish now hears that ABC — and not “3rd Rock” net NBC — has the inside track on the sitcom, after guaranteeing the show two seasons. ABC is the same network that essentially put “3rd Rock” into turn-around, allowing it to become an Emmy-winning hit at NBC.

Sources said that NBC, which gave the Turners their biggest hit, didn’t have much of a chance however, because it has thrown “3rd Rock” all around its schedule, placing it up against ABC’s “The Drew Carey Show,” where the one-time ratings winner now gets its clock cleaned on a regular basis.

LEVANGIE’S REWARD: After the Gigi Levangie-scripted film once called “Stepmom” became one of the most buzzed-about trailers in Sony’s ShoWest product reel, the scribe signed a two-picture deal with TriStar. One is for a romantic comedy, the other a blind commitment.

TriStar’s been lucky with Levangie. “Teacher, Teacher,” which is produced by Suzanne and Jennifer Todd, has Tom Selleck tapped to star, while “Stepmom,” sold as a spec script, is looking for a title but just wrapped with Chris Columbus directing Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon and Ed Harris. Though the film was well-received at ShoWest, Sarandon, in between throwing quarters in a slot machine at Bally’s, lamented the need to come up with the right title to convey the gut-wrenching plotline of a mother, who’s already lost her husband to a younger woman, now having to share her children with the interloper when she develops a serious disease. Sarandon’s suggestions? “Dead Woman Walking” and “My Best Friend’s Funeral.” TriStar’s still looking. Levangie’s repped by William Morris and Addis-Wechsler.

“MASK” HITS STAGE: The post-“Lion King” rush to turn movies into Broadway musicals continues. Dish hears that “Mask,” the 1985 Peter Bogdanovich-directed film that starred Cher and Eric Stoltz, is next in line. Anna Hamilton Phelan, who wrote the original script based on the true story of Rocky Dennis, a young man whose appearance is made grotesque by a congenital disease, is writing the book, while Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, whose compositions include the tunes “On Broadway” and the Dolly Parton hit “Here You Come Again,” are writing the music.

“KURT AND COURTNEY” GETS DISTRIB: Despite getting another legal letter over the Nick Broom-field docu “Kurt and Courtney,” the San Francisco-based Roxie Theater has done so well the past three weeks that it is signing on to distribute the film around the country. On the legal front, Roxie first heard from lawyers for Courtney Love because the film casts her in an unflattering light. The theater owners called her bluff, but now have gotten a cease-and-desist letter from EMI, the rights-holder to music by Kurt Cobain’s Nirvana, which kept the film out of Sundance and threatened legal action if it showed in San Francisco. Roxie owner Bill Banning, after posting record business for three weeks, pledged Roxie Releasing’s services as distrib. Roxie releases a couple of films each year. Previous efforts include “Red Rock West” and “The Last Time I Committed Suicide.”

For Broomfield, the move staves off suicide of the financial variety. “This takes a great deal of stress off of me. I can now move on to my next film, which is great because I’m semi-bankrupt, which is quite a creative influence,” Broomfield said. Broomfield, who called the legal letters “saber-rattling,” said the pic will now move to Seattle, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston starting in April.

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