By People Staff
Updated December 27, 1982 12:00 PM

A year ago the marathon staging of Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby was Broadway’s hottest ticket, even at $100 per seat. In January admission will be a bargain when the nine-hour syndicated TV version airs on four successive evenings. The networks, however, which turned down the show as too long, may face a financial beating: So many affiliates—some 25—are dumping regular programs to show Nickleby that network ratings could drop. Taped in the summer of 1981 at London’s Old Vic, the $4 million video adaptation features 39 Royal Shakespeare Company actors who performed in London and New York, including Roger Rees, in the title role, and the crippled orphan played by David Threlfall (left).

Next year’s most mesmerizing star combination may be Jodie Foster, 20, and Peter O’Toole, 50, in CBS’ Svengali, a bizarre love story about a young rock singer and her Hungarian-born vocal coach. The film (for which O’Toole reportedly was paid more than $450,000, one of the highest made-for-TV wages ever) marks Jodie’s first extracurricular performance in the year and a half since, as a Yale freshman, she became the object of John Hinckley’s romantic obsession. Despite the layoff, Jodie had few problems. “Peter O’Toole could charm anyone into singing her brains out,” she raved. “Svengali made me fall in love with acting again. It healed my wounds.”

NBC, still in last place in the ratings, is placing a big bet on Casablanca, a spring replacement series based on the 1942 film classic of love and intrigue in World War II North Africa. David Soul stars as the world-weary café owner whom Bogart immortalized. There will be no Ingrid Bergman role, though—the TV story supposedly takes place a year before she wanders into the gin mill. Scatman Crothers co-stars as piano-playing Sam. Hoping to appease already miffed cinema purists, producer David Wolper will re-create the look of the film by using the door and chandeliers from the original movie set of Rick’s Café “If we go down in flames,” he philosophizes, “let’s at least go down with class.”

Like Hepburn and Fonda in On Golden Pond, Bette Davis and James Stewart, both 74, are solid golden oldies in Right of Way, one of several quality made-for-cable films that will mark pay-TV’s coming-of-age. Based on a play about an elderly couple who consider suicide when facing terminal illness, the theme was presumably too hot for the networks (CBS rejected it) but not for HBO. Right of Way seemed aptly titled: On location last fall Stewart, driving an old Buick in traffic, had a hair-raising close call. The ever-feisty Davis fumed, “It was a damn sight better in the old days when things were shot in the studio.”

Leave It to Beaver was canceled in 1963 but still thrives in reruns on some 200 stations. Now CBS has reunited (from right) Jerry Mathers, Barbara Billingsley, Tony Dow and Ken Osmond in a two-hour sequel, Still the Beaver, set in May-field 20 years later. But the new movie might better be titled Cleaver vs. Cleaver: Here the ever-hapless hero copes with divorce and single fatherhood. Mathers, 34, now an Anaheim disc jockey, doesn’t mind. “The Beaver,” he beams, “has only done good things for me.”

The late Princess Grace of Monaco (right, in her mid-20s) reportedly was upset when ABC announced plans to docudramatize her life in The Grace Kelly Story, a two-hour film to star 31-year-old Cheryl Ladd (left). But neither Grace’s disapproval nor her fatal accident last September (the film company claims she’d started to cooperate before her death) persuaded the network to abandon the project. The movie will follow Grace from her Philadelphia childhood through her five-year Hollywood career (recreating scenes from Country Girl, Rear Window and High Society) and end with her marriage to Rainier at age 26 in 1956. “She’s a woman we admired very much,” says Ladd, whose startling facial resemblance to the young Grace will be enhanced in the film by 64 costumes and 52 different hairdos.