CHICAGO (thefutoncritic.com) -- Production on the fifth season of HBO's "The Sopranos" has been halted indefinitely due to a breakdown in salary negotiations with series star James Gandolfini. Shooting was scheduled to being March 24.
The conflict stems from competiting lawsuits filed by Gandolfini and HBO against each other last week over the actor's status with the show. Gandolfini's lawsuit alleges HBO did not notify him within the agreed upon 10 days after the show's fifth season was ordered on July 17, 2001. According to Gandolfini's representatives, such a move would make his contract for a fifth season void and not require him to show up for shooting on March 24. Calling the lawsuit "frivolous," HBO has counter-sued Gandolfini for $100 million in damages that would be caused due to his absence from the series.
Gandolfini's lawsuit is viewed by many as simply a negotiating ploy to increase his salary for the fifth season. Currently the actor is making a surprisingly average $400,000 per episode considering "The Sopranos" critical and financial success, below such actors as Ray Romano, the "Friends" cast and Kelsey Grammer but on par with "The West Wing's" Martin Sheen.
HBO has reportedly offered Gandolfini $11 million to return for the 13-episode fifth season, part of which was to be paid in profit participation. But the actor is said to have been asking for $27 million for season five, and $16.7 million for a sixth season should that get ordered, for an average of $21 million per season for a fifth and sixth batch.
Recently fellow "Sopranos" stars Michael Imperioli, Tony Sirico, Drea de Matteo, Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Robert Iler renegotiated their contracts with HBO to more than triple their salaries. Imperioli is set to make $80,000 per episode for season five while the remaining trio will be paid in the neighborhood of $60,000 an episode for the upcoming season. Previously all four made between $15,000-$25,000 an episode.
With production halted it is extremely unlikely the fifth season of the series will be ready before January 2004.