'Northern Exposure,' Star in Icy Dispute : Television: Holdout Rob Morrow is sued by Universal. He reportedly wants his $30,000-per-episode salary doubled.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Actor Rob Morrow, who plays the New York doctor on the hit CBS series "Northern Exposure," was slapped Wednesday with a breach of contract suit in Los Angeles Superior Court by Universal Television for refusing to show up when the series resumed shooting last week, a spokesman for the studio reported.

Morrow is said to be demanding double the $30,000 per episode he currently receives, even though he signed a standard seven-year contract with built-in salary increases when the sleeper series premiered two summers ago.

Morrow's attorney declined to comment on the situation. But the Universal spokesman said that the studio is "actively pursuing a recast" to replace Morrow, rather than meet the actor's demands.

"To be honest with you, I'd just as soon give you a 'no comment' right now," said executive producer John Falsey, who created the series with partner Josh Brand. "Things are very testy and tight. But we have every hope that it gets worked out."

"Northern Exposure" started out as the story of an urban-dwelling doctor who agrees to spend his residency in the outback town of Cicely, Alaska, in return for financing his education. But the series, which became one of television's highest-rated last season, has grown into more of an ensemble drama, focusing on all the oddball residents in the mystical small town.

If matters with Morrow cannot be resolved, a new character will be written into the series, Falsey said, as opposed to casting another actor in the role of Dr. Joel Fleischman. That could conceivably put "Northern Exposure" behind schedule for its fall premiere, considering that the first 10 scripts for next season are already written or near completion, according to sources.

Falsey said Morrow really wasn't scheduled to begin filming scenes until next week, so production in upstate Washington is proceeding for the moment by shooting around him. Similarly, co-star Janine Turner, who plays Maggie, is still out of the country working on the feature film "Cliffhanger" with Sylvester Stallone.

In addition to Morrow's holdout, the producers of "Northern Exposure" have some other pressing challenges to deal with.

A Hollywood cameraman and a commercial fisherman filed suit in Superior Court Monday against Universal and Brand/Falsey Productions for stealing their idea for a series called "Latitude 47" to create "Northern Exposure."

"I can just tell you, that's a joke," Falsey said. "These guys come out of the woodwork from time to time."

Brand and Falsey have detailed their fish-out-of-water idea for the series in past interviews, saying at one point they considered plunking their quintessential urban dweller in the middle of the Louisiana bayou.

A final unresolved matter on "Northern Exposure" involves who will steer the series creatively next season. When CBS picked up "Northern Exposure" for two seasons and 52 episodes earlier this year, Brand and Falsey only signed on for the first 13 episodes so they could pursue other projects. Their successors have yet to be named.

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