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Chase gets ‘Soprano’ offer; Gallagher dances

HBO and Brillstein-Grey Entetertainment are close to a deal that will give “Sopranos” boss David Chase an offer he can’t refuse: He’ll be paid $1.5 million a season with a contract that will give him a raise this season, and two more to follow.

For fans of HBO’s runaway hit drama about New Jersey mobsters, that means that “The Sopranos” could very well be extended for three more seasons beyond its acclaimed rookie year, sources said.

The deal’s being finalized by HBO’s Chris Albrecht, Brad Grey, who heads Brillstein-Grey and exec produces the series with Chase, and Chase’s reps, UTA and attorney Michael Gendler. All parties took a mobster-like oath of omerta and were either unreachable or declined comment.

But the pending deal is a big reward for Chase hatching arguably the most critically acclaimed new drama since Stephen Bochco launched “NYPD Blue.” “The Sopranos’ ” first season is being repeated by HBO through the summer; the second season will begin in January.

Chase, whom sources said was paid a six-figure salary for the initial season, is no overnight success. His credits go back to “The Rockford Files” and include such dramas as “I’ll Fly Away” and “Northern Exposure.” He signed an overall deal with B-G several years ago which led to several pilots, one of which was “The Sopranos,” which several networks turned down.

HBO will have to formally pick up the drama each season, but the deal essentially ties Chase to the helm of “The Sopranos” for a second and third season. He’ll supervise it in the fourth season, but it’s likely another show runner would take over. While Chase has been chased by film studios following his “Sopranos” success, the show reflects his singular voice and it’s unclear whether he’ll get involved in a film until that fourth season, though a directing stint during a hiatus is probable. A prime suspect: “Female Suspect,” a comedy Chase wrote and will direct at Universal about a female sociologist studying criminal behavior among women, who becomes eligible for her own case study. Larry Gordon will produce.

The payweb traditionally hasn’t competed on the multimillion dollar payscales that traditional networks and studios pay for show runners and creators who not only often don’t hatch hits, but don’t even get pilots on network skeds. HBO brass were quietly denying the numbers, but were clearly stepping up along with B-G to keep Chase happy.

HBO and B-G partner in the show and have just begun to sell it foreign. Domestic syndication potential is unclear, given the nudity and racy language that are part of the show’s fabric.

GALLAGHER’S DATE AT THE BALLET: Peter Gallagher will play a lead for director Nicholas Hytner in his untitled film about the cutthroat world of ballet, which begins shooting in Gotham this month for Columbia. Gallagher will play the artistic director of a dance school, and Donna Murphy, the Tony winner from “Passion,” will play a former ballet dancer and teacher. Col is busy casting the central roles of three young dancers, who attend the American Ballet Academy in New York City and find themselves involved in ballet intrigues. Lawrence Mark produces for Columbia. Gallagher just completed Showtime’s “Brother of Murder” and costars in “House on Haunted Hill” for Warner Bros. and “American Beauty” for DreamWorks. He’s managed by Brillstein-Grey’s Marc Gurvitz and Danny Sussman and agented by CAA.

$2 MILLION PER INCORRECT DOCTOR BILL: In what proves that money is no joking matter, “ER” exec producer John Wells and George Clooney have officially denied rumors that Clooney is returning for episodes next season at $2 million per episode. In fact, they’re calling it a fabrication. The number was reported most recently in a People magazine gossip item, and seemed to have originated from some joking comments Julianna Margulies made in a British magazine recently. In a quip picked up by the Gotham tabs months ago, Margulies tossed out a dollar figure she presumed might be necessary to bring back her onscreen lover for the birth of the twins she’s carrying. Sources said Clooney’s made no committment to return, though he left the option open when he left earlier this year. But since he was the only cast member to never ask for a pay raise, and was the lowest paid of the original cast members at $42,000 an episode, it would be out of character for him to now hold those producers up for big bucks. That’s the part of the rumor that made Clooney looney.

IBEN MOST WANTED GAL: Remember the name Iben Hjejle, who savvy Hollywoodites are betting will quickly transform from a walking typographical error to a hot actress. Every agency chased the star of “Mifune,” and she was signed by William Morris’s Motion Picture co-head John Burnham and Gaby Morgerman just as she signed for the female lead of the Working Title romantic comedy “High Fidelity,” which John Cusack, Steve Pink and D.V. Devincentis adapted from the Nick Hornby novel. The film’s directed by Stephen Frears, who cast Hjejle after a chance meeting while he was in Germany accepting the Golden Bear Award for “Hi-Lo Country” and she was being honored as an up and coming star. The WMA contingent flew to Germany to sign the actress, who ought to begin establishing a presence when Sony Pictures Classics releases “Mifune” later this year.

FROM “NINE” TO “X”: Nicole DeBoer, who just wrapped the final season of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” has segued to star opposite Charles Sheen and Emilio Estevez in “Rated X,” the Showtime pic about porn brothers Artie and Jim Mitchell. Estevez will direct. Once she wraps that, she’ll star in “Stalk,” a film written and directed by Russell Dugrazier produced by Oliver Stone, Dan Halsted and Elie Samaha. Filming starts this fall. She’s repped by Steven Fenton of Evolution and William Morris.

CAMP COUNSELS “ABILENE”: Joe Camp III will soon find out whether he should have taken the advice of his father, who created the “Benji” series, and steered clear of the screen biz when he begins screenings of his first film, “Abilene,” in hopes of getting a distribution deal. The pic stars Ernest Borgnine as an Army vet who journeys through West Texas to see his dying brother, and discovers himself in the vast landscape. Camp wrote and directed and, much like his father, found outside financing. He put the pic together with producer Tom Gamble, and they’ll screen it for distribs at the DGA Theater on Friday at 1 p.m. Camp and Gamble are already readying the next: It will either be the big-budget “Leaving Tillman,” which Camp wrote and hopes to direct about a battle between brothers on opposite sides of the law in Texas, or two other prospects.

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