With Cates out, Oscar needs producer

GOOD MORNING: There’s a vacancy for the toughest job in the biz: producing the 72nd annual Academy Awards. Gil Cates, who has produced nine of the awards, met with newly re-elected Acad president Robert Rehme to discuss the upcoming show and Cates confirms he’d rather not do it this coming year. (The show airs live at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, March 26, at the Shrine auditorium.) Last year, while readying/producing the Oscar show, Cates was full-time running the Geffen theater, where he also directed Donald Margulies’ “Collected Stories” and produced a Tom Clancy mini for ABC, and later the Ford Theater special. Now Cates is readying to direct and produce (with Dennis Doty) the feature version of “Collected Stories.” The legit version starred Linda Lavin and Samantha Mathis and received rave notices. Helen Mirren now stars in the London troupe. The feature cast is now being set … Cates achieved much applause (and many Emmy noms) for his creativity and surprises in Oscar shows — and was able to keep most of them a secret from the ever-growing list of press covering the Oscars … Bob Rehme confirmed Cates’ decision and is in the process of “making a list — and checking it twice” from a potential of film producers/directors. Rehme acknowledged the Oscars have become increasingly big each year. As for the upcoming show, he says the “Oscar story (for the year 2000) hasn’t been written yet” — because there are a lot of big contenders that won’t open until year’s end. As for the annual discussion about the show’s TV ratings, Rehme reminds, “They (the ratings) are subject to the movies and the stars nominated.” F’rinstance, this past year the winner was “Shakespeare in Love,” while the previous winner was the all-time blockbuster “Titanic.” And this year, Roberto Benigni and Gwyneth Paltrow were actor and actress winners, and James Coburn and Judi Dench supporting thesps; the previous year the winners were far better known Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, Robin Williams and Kim Basinger. Any suggestions to produce the show?

SO NOW REEGE IS ELIGIBLE for Social Security. Regis Philbin celebrated (and how!) his 65th birthday Wednesday night with wife Joy at Le Cirque after taping the “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” seg that airs tonight. Regis admitted he was euphoric over the ratings rise on the previous night show’s half million-$ winner (he told me the contestant coulda been the first million-$ winner if he followed his first hunch!). Asked whether the ratings raise meant a raise in salary, and what the future financial ramifications are for him, Philbin admitted, “We haven’t frankly had the time (to think about it) — but it’s been one helluva ride!” His William Morris agent Jimmy Griffin declined to discuss the contents of his contract, only allowing, “He (Regis) has a very happy relationship with ABC (and Disney).” They’ll sit down next week, after the prime time gameshow’s had its initial run, to discuss which way to go in the Fall — and which rung on the million-$ ladder will be Philbin’s.

IRWIN WINKLER RECEIVES the Flanders Film Festival’s Joseph Plateau Award Oct. 8 in Ghent. An eight-film retro will also be shown. Sandra Bullock (who starred in Winkler’s “The Net”) makes the presentation. Stanley Donen will also receive a tribute at the Kinepolis Multiplex. The Kinepolis Group is the largest exhib in the Benelux countries and sponsors the fest again along with the Belgian government. Jury members include Robert Forster, attorney Jay Cooper, Brigitte Fosse and Amanda Plummer. The historic Ghent Opera House and Brussels Opera House, respectively, will also be the sites Oct. 7-8 for concerts baton’d by Oscar-winning composer Stephen Warbeck (“Shakespeare in Love”), as well as Elliot Goldenthal (“A Time to Kill”) and Belgian composers Frederic Devreese and Disk Brosse. The Belgian National orch will perform suites from their films. Cher will be performing a concert at nearby Brussels and it’s hoped she will appear with Franco Zeffirelli’s terrif ‘Tea With Mussolini.” Also in the fest, Tony Goldwyn’s “A Walk on the Moon,” Jim Jarmusch’s “Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai Monsters,” Anjelica Huston’s “Agnes Browne,” “The Blair Witch Project,” “Beautiful People,” “Rembrandt,” David Mamet’s “The Winslow Boy” — and Disney’s “Tarzan,” which will be the closing night film … And what’s so fancy as old Delancey (to borrow a lyric from the song, “Tenement Symphony”): N.Y.’s Delancey Street subway station is duplicated — in Toronto — for Par’s “Bless the Child.” Producer Mace Neufeld admitted he had his heart in his mouth when the pic’s star Kim Basinger insisted on getting down on the tracks for a scene with an oncoming train. Neufeld describes the pic as “a reverse ‘Omen’ ” and Christina Ricci undergoes hours of makeup for her supernatural role … Barbara Taylor Bradford, who handpicked Liam Neeson for her 1983 Emmy-nominated “A Woman of Substance,” has now set another Irish thesp, Dublin’s Paudge Behan — whose dad was Brendan Behan — to costar with Janine Turner in “A Secret Affair,” CBS’ counter-programming for the World Series. The pic filmed in Venice’s glass-blowing island of Murano. Bobby Roth directs for Adelson Ent., with Bob Bradford as exec producer.

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