‘ER’ plans lively bow

'ER' mulls live opener; Morton gets 'Blues'

With the show closing its third season as TV’s top-rated series, what can the cast and producers of “ER” possibly do for an encore? They’re working on a plan to open the next season with a live episode.

According to sources, the cast is all for it, and exec producer John Wells is trying to figure out if it’s logistically feasible. While several sitcoms have done live episodes — the Fox comedy “Roc” did regularly — doing drama live is a far more daunting task.

While a sitcom is essentially one stage and three cameras, a drama is far more involved. The early plan is to use three stages, with cast members being carried via golf cart from scene to scene. Insiders said the plan could be rendered DOA if it’s deemed too much of a logistical nightmare.

Some might consider it a stunt, but sources said the proposal was made by the show’s performers as “as a way for a barrier-breaking show to break another barrier.” The downside is duplicating the controlled chaos of the operating rooms with just one take.

Whether it involves procedure-barking surgeons or gurneys being wheeled through corridors at high speeds, the show is well choreographed, and could present major problems done live. They’ll decide within the next six weeks whether to go live from the ER.

SUMMER VACATION PLANS: A number of TV stars are still firming up plans about what to do on their summer vacations. “Friends” star Lisa Kudrow has agreed to join Christina Ricci, “The Portrait of a Lady” star Martin Donovan and Lyle Lovett in “The Opposite of Sex,” which marks the directorial debut of “Single White Female” scribe Don Roos for Rysher Entertainment. In the project, a teen girl runs away to be with her gay brother, then starts a relationship with his younger boyfriend and a road trip ensues.

“Caroline in the City” star Lea Thompson has signed to star in an independent pic, “The Unknown Cyclist,” which focuses on the annual California AIDS Ride. Matthew Carlisle and Betsy Pool produce, and wrote the script with Howard Skora. Bernard Salzman directs, with Thompson starring along with Vincent Spano, Stephen Spinella and Danny Nucci. Thompson was repped by Bob Gersh.

“Party of Five” star Scott Wolf, who usually does films during hiatuses (“White Squall” and “The Evening Star”), has committed to star in “Dead End,” part of the Williamstown Theatre Festival in July. The play’s a 1936 drama written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Sidney Kingsley.

MORTON GETTING “BLUES”: Joe Morton is in talks to join Dan Aykroyd and John Goodman in the John Landis-directed “Blues Brothers 2000,” Universal’s sequel to the 1980 film that starred Aykroyd and John Belushi. James Belushi had long been expected to succeed his late brother in the film, but fell out for scheduling reasons when he committed to the Steven Bochco sitcom “Total Security.”

MGM FINDS A SCRIPT WITH HEART: MGM made a preemptive mid-six-figure buy of “Distance Calls,” a spec by Andrew Stern and Samantha Goodman that will be produced by Jennie Lew Tugend (“Free Willy 3”). The spec’s described as a love story that centers on a man who falls in love with a woman who is the recipient of his recently deceased wife’s heart. Both scribes are graduates of the Peter Stark Producing Program at USC. Their deal was made by Jordan Bayer and Matt Leipzig of Original Artists.

LIFE IMITATES “SMITHEE”: Arthur Hiller’s taking his name off “An Alan Smithee Film” and replacing it with the Smithee moniker might seem an extreme example of life imitating art, but another recent, unrelated Hollywood episode closely mirrored “Smithee’s” storyline, about a movie being commandeered and held hostage.

The incident was a dispute over payment between the equipment house Christy’s and Island Pictures. The conflict arose over “Body Count,” a Rob Spruill-directed drama that stars David Caruso, Ving Rhames, Linda Fiorentino, Donnie Wahlberg, Forest Whitaker and John Leguizamo. Island editors complained some equipment wasn’t working while the equipment house claimed the film company owed them $10,000.

Craig Christy picked up the equipment at a time when the editors hadn’t yet downloaded their edits. So when Christy retrieved the editing unit, he essentially took with him the edited version of the movie on the unit’s hard drive. Island and parent company Polygram filed a complaint with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Dept. They asked for trespass and grand theft charges, claiming their backup disks were erased and its film gone. Christy later returned the editing unit and the material on it.

For his part, Christy acknowledged he picked up the equipment, but he denies he was trying to hold it up to get paid: “They said the system wasn’t working, and we felt we were owed money. If it was our intent to take the movie, why would we have returned it?” He said they’re still waiting to be paid. Sources at the Sheriff’s Dept. said the complaint was forwarded to the D.A., but felt it was a civil dispute and not criminal.

And while Island feared that weeks of editing work had been lost, it now appears the studio has its edited film back, sources said.

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