Reeve returns to thesping

GOOD MORNING: Atlanta’s Shepherd Center Hospital, which specializes in spinal cord and brain injury treatment, will be the site for Christopher Reeve’s scenes in CBS’ “Snakes and Ladders,” filming Aug. 16. Producer Craig Anderson, a longtime friend of Reeve’s (from stage and TV), says he will shoot the actor’s three scenes there while Reeve is in Atlanta for m.c. chores on the ParaOlympics. The center has all the physical requirements to make it possible for Reeve to do his scenes (in one day) with Kendall Cunningham. The 10-year-old plays a quadriplegic whom Reeve encourages with hope and determination — of which Reeve, himself, has plenty. The script also calls for a message to insurance companies who don’t fully cover patients like Reeve. The thesp is endorsing Prop. 216, the Patient Protection Act, on California’s November ballot; it would establish safeguardsfor the growing millions of Californians who participate in managed care programs. Anderson says Reeve told him he is “itching” to get back into acting again … Alfre Woodard, who starred in Anderson’s “The Piano Lesson,” cameos this week in “Snakes,” playing a neurosurgeon who specializes in injuries of the spinal cord. Also cameo’ing is Brad Dourif. Judith Light stars as the mother who moves her son across the country seeking specialized medical care for the boy who suffered a spinal cord injury in a diving accident. The pic, written by Tom Nursall and Harris Goldberg and directed by Debbie Reinisch, was once a Disney-planned feature; CBS bought it in turnaround. Anderson next starts a four-hour mini, “True Women,” based on Janice Woods Windle’s bestseller, also for CBS.

THE RIGHT AND WRONG time to release your movie: “Emma” producer Steven Haft compliments Miramax for their astute timing and planned release of this movie in a season of action-, anger- and angst-filled fare. “It is exactly the right time,” says a happy Haft, as the pic averaged about $26,000 on its first few screens. It will expand to 40 and next 200. His earlier 1996 film, “The Last Dance,” was released “at exactly the wrong time,” he says. Despite being ready earlier, Haft reminds it was released May 3 — a lamb sent to the slaughter after “Dead Man Walking” had made its mark. “It (“Dead Man”) was our film’s undoing.” But Haft hopes Disney will remember Sharon Stone’s “Last” performance and conduct an Oscar campaign for her. Pointing to “Blue Sky,” another film with minimal initial viewing, the pic got a campaign going for Jessica Lange, who won the Oscar, you recall. Haft’s next, “Don Quixote” for Phoenix, gets rolling as soon as director Fred Schepisi takes over re-shoots on “Fierce Creatures,” the John Cleese, Kevin Kline followup to “A Fish Called Wanda.” Cleese stars as Don Quixote to Robin Williams’ Sancho Panza in “Don Quixote.” Haft, who had set scripter Douglas McGrath to direct “Emma,” will give another first-time director his reins: Shane Connaughton, on “Guests of the Nation”… During my Denver visit last week, I touched base with Colorado’s Motion Picture & TV Commissioner Michael Quine, no stranger to Hollywood, with credits here at Fox, NBC and Paradigm. In addition to the ABC telefilm “Dying to Be Perfect,” on which I reported, upcoming projects include Denver alumnus John Davis’ banner’s “Asteroids” and Snowfield Inc.’s “Phantoms.” “The Shining’s” six-hour mini lensed in Denver, as did “Going West.” While the new Denver Intl. Airport is now the sixth-busiest in the U.S., a portion of the former airport, Stapleton, is now home to Colorado Studios, which has joined forces with LSI in providing studio facilities with three studio/sound stages, edit suites, computer graphics systems. Of course Denver has its beautiful Performing Arts Complex — and its teams, the Colorado Rockies, Broncos, Nuggets and Avalanche. And the place to stay, Denver’s beautiful, hospitable landmark hotel, the Brown Palace. And Denver is a beautiful city as well.

SORRY TO REPORT Robert Urich was diagnoised with a rare form of cancer, synovial sarcoma, and he will undergo chemotherapy for several weeks — but “the prognosis for recovery is excellent,” says his doctor, Gerald Rosen. It is anticipated Urich will return to Turner’s series “The Lazarus Man” on completion of the chemotherapy … And KDOC’s Wally George undergoes surgery today at USC hospital for a blood clot on the brain, suffered, he says, in a fall on the station’s stairway … This week, Mel Torme records his CD tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, “Ella, You Showed Me the Way” (Concord). “It is with a heart of admiration, devotion and love that I undertake this project in her memory,” said Mel. Torme’s backed by a big band, 20-piece string section and a trio … Eclipse adds music on Tuesdays, starting tonight. Although Dennis Rodman has signed with the Chicago Bulls, the colorful Rodman, in giant chapeau and surrounded by a bevy of beauties– and managers — at Bernard Erpicum’s Eclipse eatery, told me he’ll be spending most of his time in the future in L.A. — on his TV, feature and commercial jobs.