'Sopranos' star will stay with HBO hit

Times Staff Writer

HBO on Wednesday declared an official end to its bitter contract dispute with James Gandolfini, star of the cable network's popular drama "The Sopranos."

But still up in the air is how much the actor will be paid.

Executives said the cable network received formal notification late Tuesday that the actor had dropped the lawsuit he had filed to get out of his contract, and that he plans to return to work under the terms of his original deal. HBO in turn is dropping its countersuit against Gandolfini.

"We are delighted that the great James Gandolfini will be back at work in the role he has created with such distinction," HBO Chairman Chris Albrecht said in a statement.

Gandolfini said in a separate statement: "I'm very happy that 'The Sopranos' will be back. It's a show that I love doing, with people I love working with."

However, talks about a raise have not taken place. The series star had been making $300,000 an episode, and the cable network had offered him a raise of $650,000 an episode, or about $11 million a year.

But Gandolfini demanded $26 million a year, or around $2 million an episode.

Sources said the dispute might prompt HBO to pay the actor its previous offer of $11 million.

"All that's known at this point is James is going back to work," one HBO source said.

Production of the show's fifth season is scheduled to resume April 1, slightly more than a week later than the previously scheduled start date of Monday. That date had been postponed indefinitely as the legal battle escalated.

Gandolfini had charged that the cable network violated a clause in his contract when it failed to notify him of a $20-million deal it had struck with the mob drama's creator, David Chase, for a fifth season.

HBO countersued, calling the actor's lawsuit "frivolous and without merit."

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