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Stewart smacks ‘Smoochie’; ‘Ali’ shuffling

HERE’S THE REASON you don’t see Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw or Peter Jennings with movie deals. Jon Stewart, anchor of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” has just signed to play the villain in “Death to Smoochie,” the Danny DeVito-directed Warner Bros. comedy that stars Edward Norton, Robin Williams, DeVito and Catherine Keener. That will leave the yuk web scrambling to fill the anchor chair occasionally once filming begins.

Stewart replaced Craig Kilborn and signed a three-year deal nearly two years ago as the host of Comedy Central’s popular nightly comic newscast. He has flourished in the role, but came in already having turned in solid performances in a number of films, most notably the Adam Sandler starrer “Big Daddy” and “Playing by Heart.” Stewart’s reps, Jimmy Miller and James Dixon, smartly structured his Comedy Central deal so that Stewart could continue the momentum with the occasional movie, and this is the first time Stewart is using the contract perk that’ll take him out of service for the next couple of months.

In “Smoochie,” Stewart plays a ruthless network executive who dumps a popular Barney-like kidshow host named Rainbow Randolph (Williams) and hires a blue rhino (Norton) to replace him, driving Randolph to plot the murder of his rival. The pic is shooting in Toronto and New York, and they’re formulating plans to sub the show with “The Daily Show” correspondents, though Stewart will do his best to make the show on down days in Toronto and when the pic comes to Gotham, where “The Daily Show” tapes. By all accounts, he likes his “Daily Show” gig and isn’t contemplating a full-time transfer to screen acting like Greg Kinnear made when the “Talk Soup” host got a career break with a supporting role in “Sabrina,” and then got an Oscar nom in “As Good As It Gets.”

MORE “ALI” DEALMAKING: While the financing of “Ali” came together in a battle as protracted and bruising as the first Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier bout, there was apparently some additional punching after the final bell had rung.

IEG originally bought foreign in the Michael Mann-Will Smith pic for about $65 million to $70 million, leaving Columbia with about a $35 million to $40 million exposure for domestic. The studio dug in over the pic’s budget, getting concessions from the participants to make sure it did not exceed $105 million. Now, it looks like “Ali” will be more costly for the studio anyway. When IEG took the temperature in foreign countries, it suddenly realized it had overpaid and would have difficulty covering its costs.

Columbia didn’t close the longform contract fast enough, and IEG came back to the table for more concessions, said sources. The negotiations were ongoing into Wednesday evening, but clearly Columbia has no choice but to budge and assume more of the financial burden of the movie. That might be made easier, given that the studio has Smith locked into a June start date on “Men in Black 2.”

HOLLYWOOD WOMEN: Female Hollywood pioneers like Sherry Lansing, Dawn Steel, Sue Mengers, Nora Ephron and Barbra Streisand helped make Hollywood a viable career option for women. Now, their adventures will be the focus of a film. Alliance Atlantis has optioned the Rachel Abramowitz book, “Is That a Gun in Your Pocket: Women’s Experience of Power in Hollywood,” for a feature that will be produced by Joan Hyler and Alliance Atlantis’s Ed Guernon.

The Random House book will form the basis for a film that details the rise of women in the Hollywood power structure during the ’70s and ’80s. “There was a period when women stormed the Bastille and were admitted to the front office, and the idea is to capture the spirit of that time,” said Hyler, who observed from close proximity the ascension of the powerful ladies while she was an agent at ICM and William Morris.

Abramowitz will be a coproducer on the pic, which Hyler set up under MHS, the company she runs with Alfred Molina and Larry Scissors. They’re looking to get a smart female writer involved, such as Jane Anderson, who’s currently working for Guernon and Alliance Atlantis on the Billie Jean King biopic to star Holly Hunter for TNT.

A “BONNIE” BUY: Mostow/Lieberman has made a preemptive six-figure buy of “Bonnie Winter,” a thriller by Graham Masterson to be published by Viking. The book is a psychological suspense thriller about a woman who uncovers a mystery while investigating a series of crime scenes.

Jonathan Mostow and Hal Lieberman bought it out of the discretionary fund they have through their Universal deal, and will develop the book as a potential directing vehicle for Mostow, who last lensed the sub drama “U-571.”

Masterson’s the bestselling Ireland-based author of more than 35 novels that include “The Manitou,” which was turned into a Tony Curtis-Susan Strasberg pic directed by Bill Girdler.

CHESTNUT DEAL: Morris Chestnut, best known for starring in films like “Boyz N the Hood” and the upcoming Screen Gems pic “The Brothers,” has teamed with his Diversified Managed Investments (DMI) partner Dewayne Brady to make a two-picture, two-year production deal with urban film outfit Mandalay Proliance. In the first-look deal, DMI will serve as exec producers on their pics, the possible first of which is a remake of the Diana Ross pic “Mahogany.”

DISHINGS: For those keeping score at home, several recent breathlessly reported scoops elsewhere originated in Dish, including that Mike Myers is negotiating to work with Ivan Reitman in MGM’s “Pink Panther” (Oct. 31), that Sean Penn is toplining Jessie Nelson-directed New Line pic “Sam I Am” (Oct. 3), and that Mel Gibson is mulling the starring role in the Randall Wallace-directed “Lost Patrol” for Paramount (Nov. 16) … Author Nathaniel Philbrick, whose National Book Award-winning “In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex” is being turned into a pic by Barry Levinson and Paula Weinstein with Intermedia, has pacted with Viking Penguin to write about the U.S. Exploring Expedition of 1838-42, a Navy trek that did for the Pacific Ocean what Lewis and Clark did for the American West. Though the trip led to the discovery of Antarctica and much more, the four-year voyage was brutal, with two ships and 71 men lost, and the captain and crew returning to level misconduct charges at one another. Philbrick’s book will be pubbed in 2003, and lit agent Stuart Krichevsky and UTA, who made the movie deals for “Heart of the Sea” and “The Perfect Storm,” will wait to shop it to studios.

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