May 22, 2000 12:00 PM

Friends: How High the sky?

The show’s cast seeks a truckload of cash—just like other stars

Focus

Perhaps you’ve read that the Friends cast would like $1 million each, per episode, to continue next season. Perhaps you realized that represents a 700 percent increase over their current $125,000 per show. Perhaps you thought: Gosh, that’s a lot, isn’t it?

Yes, it is. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most American workers received a 4 percent raise between March 1999 and March 2000. Most unionized screen actors (not the stars) will get a 3.5 percent boost

July 1, when the minimum will rise to $617 a day.

But Friends cast members, like other celebs at the top of their game, are a financial world away, where moon-shot salary hikes do occur. And the cast can argue, not unreasonably, that they’re only asking for a fairer share of a very lucrative pie (Warner Bros., which produces Friends, may earn as much as $1 billion in syndication fees). And the Friends aren’t alone—just look at the raise estimates for some of their TV peers:

$ Eriq La Salle, 300 percent: Last year, the ER doc earned almost $100,000 per episode. Now? About $400,000.

$ John Lithgow, 166 percent: The 3rd Rock from the Sun star saw his fee rocket from $75,000 to $200,000.

$ Sarah Michelle Gellar, 150 percent: Buffy the Vampire Slayer jumped from $30,000 in ’98 to $75,000.

And if you’re not a celebrity? A little star power couldn’t hurt. Janitors and cafeteria workers at Harvard University, seeking a 54 percent raise (from $6.50 to $10 an hour) got Ben Affleck and Matt Damon to argue their case at a rally May 6. A Harvard spokesman was impressed—but said the real deals are made at the bargaining table.

On TV: Home Stallone

What does it take to get a celebrity couple to open up their house to the public? In the case of Sylvester Stallone and Jennifer Flavin, whose Beverly Hills place was the scene of a guided tour televised for Home Shopping Network viewers May 6, it was a cause close to home, as Flavin sold skin-care products and a percentage of proceeds went to heart research. Their daughter Sophia Rose, who turns 4 in August, was born with ventricular septal defect, a congenital heart defect. She’s fine, thanks to surgery when she was 10 weeks old, but the Stallones think more people, particularly new parents, need to be aware of the ailment. “At first,” says Flavin, 31, “you think your baby’s a little fussy or maybe has colic. Sophia wouldn’t lie down; she would vomit constantly. She wasn’t gaining weight. But you never think your child has a hole in its heart.”

After Sophia’s condition was diagnosed, Flavin researched the problem and held fundraisers for the Heart of a Child Foundation, which supports heart-defect research.

Sophia, fully recovered, is “the most energetic child I’ve ever seen, a whirling dervish,” says Stallone. She is going to be fine, but, says Sly, “a lot of people don’t know about congenital heart disease. We want to bang the drum loudly; and then hopefully people will rally to the cause. We want to raise awareness.”

POP QUIZ

with Kelsey Grammer

Kelsey Grammer, best known as the culture-loving Dr. Frasier Crane on NBC’s Frasier, will go seriously legit June 8 when he begins a run on Broadway in Macbeth. Yes, that Macbeth, the Scottish play, the one without a laugh track, pratfalls, irony or Niles. Scoop caught up with television’s premier fussbudget at Sardi’s, a place where everybody knows your name—if you make your living onstage—on May 8 after Grammer, 45, and fellow Cheers alumna Bebe Neuwirth announced nominations for the 54th annual Tony Awards.

What’s your motivation?

I did Macbeth 20 years ago, and I wanted to try to get it right.

So you’ve done the Bard before.

Oh, gosh, all over the country. San Diego. I started with the Old Globe Theatre there. I did Hamlet outside of Boston. Then Othello on Broadway. And Macbeth at Lincoln Center. Richard II in Los Angeles.

We’re sold. It’s not new territory.

It’s always been my chief interest. It’s what attracted me to the theater in the first place. Shakespeare wrote the best language ever written to this day. There’s nothing better, nothing deeper, nothing more complex, nothing more emotional, nothing more, what I like to call, supernatural. It is the finest writing available to an actor.

So who’s the best Shakespearean actor of all time?

I don’t have an opinion on that. That would be ridiculous!

Many of your Frasier castmates have theater experience too. Is that one reason why the TV series is successful?

I actually think that theater training is probably essential for a successful run in a sitcom; it does bring together an audience-participation kind of energy. There’s a sense of style that’s a bit more like the stage than doing single-camera work for film.

Will Frasier devotees go to a Shakespearean production?

Well, I certainly hope they come. Just for the sake of hearing what I think will be a rather extraordinary rendering of the play.

How do you look in tights?

We’re not doing tights in this production. But I look good. I’ve got good legs.

To be, or not to be?

Well, that is the question!

Darva: Truth or Bare?

Not, mind you, that anyone is criticizing Darva Conger for posing in an upcoming Playboy. After all, she’s a grown-up and this is a free country. It’s just that, since her Feb. 15 Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire? debacle, there was talk—mostly from the former Mrs. Rockwell herself—that she aspired to somewhat loftier ideals. Consider:

“I am a college graduate. …I want my life back,” Conger told the Associated Press Feb. 23.

“I am not a gold digger, and sex was never an issue,” she told Good Morning America Feb. 23.

“I don’t want to be remembered as a fallen woman—like Monica Lewinsky,” she told Later Today’s Asha Blake Feb. 24.

JTT Goes a Round with Ally

Ah, but they grow up fast. Former Home Improvement tyke Jonathan Taylor Thomas, 18, recently appeared on Ally McBeal as a young online Romeo who’s smitten with Ally. Might Taylor Thomas be a wee bit smitten with star Calista Flockhart? “She’s so funny and cute,” he says. “When we were doing scenes [together], I was just captivated by her.” Taylor Thomas is planning some intellectual improvement this fall, when he heads to a still-to-be-chosen college. Odds are he’ll be the only freshman whose adolescence lives on in syndication. Watching himself in reruns, he says “it’s staggering to see how much I’ve changed.”

Testosterone Summer

Ah, the rites of summer: long days, languid nights, Tom Cruise dangling from a cliff and Mel Gibson raising the battle cry. From Cruise’s stunt-heavy turn in Mission: Impossible 2 to Gibson’s bayonet-brandishing role in The Patriot to George Clooney‘s sea battles in The Perfect Storm to the superhero fun in X-Men, major male-oriented movies are once again muscling their way into theaters this summer. What is it about the warm-weather-months that drives guys inside to watch, say, the immolations and impalings of Gladiator? Like roller coasters, another summertime favorite, “these movies are just for thrill,” says Michael Kimmel, author of Manhood in America. “The fantasy is that this is real masculinity, that this is really where men are made.” Beverly West, coauthor of Cinematherapy: The Girl’s Guide to Movies for Every Mood, believes the appeal of these movies to men is “the fantasy of getting to live out that ‘continent conqueror’ that is in the heart of every guy.” And what of their appeal to women? “The blowing-up stuff doesn’t work for women,” West says. “Women are more interested in how relationships play out.” Which, she says, means that summer “is going to be a very boring dating season for women.”

ON THE BLOCK

WALL-TO-WALL WHOOP!

Hollywood Squares and Manhattan real estate dealers share a mutual interest in location, location, location. Put your Xs or 0s in the right spots, you win the game. Sell a home in the right neighborhood, you make a nice profit. Which is what the television show’s star Whoopi Goldberg hopes to accomplish by putting her 4,200-sq.-ft. penthouse on the Upper East Side on the market. In 1996 the Oscar-winning actress paid $2.9 million for the 13-room apartment, where she once lived with former boyfriend Frank Langella. Now she’s hoping to sell it for $5.6 million. In a show of New York City neighbor etiquette, Goldberg asked the other residents in her building whether they wanted to bid on the four-bedroom home before she put it on the open market. Meanwhile she still owns a large house in Tuxedo Park, N.Y.

Here, Prince! Here, King! Stay, Sugar!

It could have been a pampered-pooch pow-wow: Queen Elizabeth’s beloved corgis sizing up Elizabeth Taylor’s cherished maltese Sugar. But a playdate for the Elizabethan pups is not to be. Taylor, due to be invested as a Dame of the British Empire at Buckingham Palace May 16, hoped to bring her constant canine companion, a.k.a. “the love of my life.” But this little doggie will stay home, the victim of strict British laws requiring a six-month quarantine for pets from outside Europe. (Britain ended the 100-year-old quarantine rule for animals from European nations last February; their owners must obtain “pet passports” certifying the animal’s health instead.) Taylor reportedly made a special plea to top dogs in British bureaucracy, but they refused to roll over. That’s a shame since, as Taylor recently noted, “[Sugar’s] expected at parties. I’m not really sure anymore who’s wanted more, me or Sugar.”

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