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WHILE LUC BESSON is in France directing Milla Jovovich and Dustin Hoffman in the Gaumont-produced “Joan of Arc,” CBS has signed Leelee Sobieski to topline a four-hour miniseries on the same subject, with the same title, which it’s aiming as a big-event program for the May sweeps. The film’s due out from Sony next fall.

Sobieski had a key role in “Deep Impact” and starred in the Merchant-Ivory film “A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries” and will next be seen with Drew Barrymore in the Fox 2000 comedy “Never Been Kissed,” and with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in the Stanley Kubrick-directed “Eyes Wide Shut.”

She was all set to take a costarring role alongside Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie in the Columbia feature “Girl Interrupted.” Those plans were interrupted when the actress was offered the chance to play the 16th century teen who led the French against the British. Sobieski will be paid considerably more for the mini than she would have for the feature, but her half-French lineage was also a factor in her decision.

The CBS mini, which sources said is budgeted at nearly $20 million for a Prague shoot, was written by Ronald Parker and will be produced by Alliance Atlantis Ent., whose Ed Gernon and Peter Sussman will be exec producers. It will be helmed by Christian Duguay (“The Assignment”) and the web is looking to cast a feature-caliber older actor for the male lead. Sobieski is repped by ICM and attorney Craig A. Emanuel.

FRIENDS BAND TOGETHER AGAIN: When the cast of “Friends” got their per-episode salaries raised from $40,000 to $100,000 several seasons ago, it followed an unfriendly round of negotiations between cast and Warner Bros. Dish hears the cast collectively decided last week to go back to the bargaining table and this time, it could be acrimony-free.

Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer want price hikes comparable to those given the cast of “ER,” whose core cast members got $1 million bonuses last year, plus big raises. Drew Carey also recently got a giant raise.

“Friends” is in its fifth season and just passed its 100th show. The cast is signed through season six and WB wants to tie the raises to a seventh season, and possibly an eighth. The “ER” raises that have brought Anthony Edwards and Noah Wyle to close to $300,000 an episode brought instant raises, tied to a one-season extension, and Carey also agreed to stay longer for megabucks.

The “Friends” cast is in strong position: NBC’s recent sluggish performance demonstrates how much the web needs the sitcom — and “Friends” has made WB a fortune in syndication. WB is making nice to the cast with some lavish undisclosed gift to offset the $1 million checks it gave the “ER” cast and the Porsche it gave Carey — all of whom are signed through season eight. Paychecks double in size might not be far off as well.

IS MAC ON THE COMEBACK?: Macaulay Culkin, who has taken a five-year layoff from the business after being one of the biggest child stars ever, appears ready to resurface.

Dish hears he was among a group of top teens vying for the costarring role in the Sam Mendes-directed film “American Beauty.” The character is a pot-dealing teenager who helps Kevin Spacey’s character reach back into his youthful years, while dating the older man’s teen daughter. The role went to newcomer Wes Bentley, but sources said Culkin, as well as Ryan Phillippe and Jared Leto, were after it. But it might well signal that Culkin’s self-imposed teen hiatus is at an end, and that he might resurface at age 18.

Culkin has been out of the game since 1994’s “Getting Even With Dad.” Aside from allowing Culkin to grow up, the layoff also allowed the dissipation of ill will created by his father and ex-manager Kit Culkin. Kit got his son’s salary up to $8 million, but enraged studio chiefs in the process.

Emily Gerson-Saines, who’s Culkin’s new manager, acknowledged he met with Mendes, but said he’s in no hurry to resume his acting career. “If it’s a great script, a great director and great costars, he’ll consider it,” she said. “But he’s not looking to do something just to do something.”

His return might be starring in a script he’s written and is now polishing.

BOOK BUZZ: This week, publishers are considering the merits of “Men Against Women,” by a first-time novelist: Laura Hart McKinny, whose interviews with L.A. police detective Mark Fuhrman elicited racist quotes that undermined the prosecution against O.J. Simpson. That research went into the novel, which McKinny’s Boston-based lit agent Lane Zachary described as “a heavy-duty, gritty police thriller that takes place in the late ’80s, through the eyes of a female policewoman who encounters racism and sexism.”

Zachary denied there was a character specifically based on Fuhrman, but said McKinny spoke to “a lot of male cops who are racist and sexist, so it’s a conglomeration of a lot of people. Laura did extensive hands-on research.”

McKinny took her time finishing the book; indeed Fuhrman has finished two books since his devastating comments were made public in 1996. She first tried to shop it as a screenplay, but public outcry shelved that; she went off and established a screenwriting school in North Carolina, and turned the material into the novel …

Studio execs and top producers flocked to New York last week, where “Scream” director Wes Craven was pitching his movie plans for “The Fountain Society,” his novel on cloning for which Simon & Schuster paid $1 million. Craven’s a couple weeks from completing the book, so nobody’s seen a page. Craven wants to direct it, and rumor is he’s so far resisted a $750,000 against $1.5 million offer from Miramax, where he has an overall deal.