HBO Settles Sopranos -Star Spat

New York— After settling a bitter salary dispute, actor James Gandolfini is coming back to work, with production of the fifth season of The Sopranos
set to start during the first week of April.

Last week, Gandolfini dropped his breach-of-contract suit against Home Box Office, paving the way for his return to the set and for production to go forward.

The very public squabble between Gandolfini and HBO had threatened the future of the mob hit The Sopranos, with the dispute centering on the pay increase sought by the burly New Jersey-bred actor.

The fight began when Gandolfini, who sources said initially wanted a pay hike to put his salary above $20 million, filed suit earlier this month. HBO, which was reportedly taken totally off guard by the lawsuit, immediately slapped Gandolfini with a counterclaim (later withdrawn) that sought $100 million in damages.

When the actor sued HBO postponed production of the new season of The Sopranos, set to begin March 24.

But early last week, after counseling from Sopranos
executive producer Brad Grey, Gandolfini withdrew his lawsuit from court in Los Angeles. He also supplied HBO with a letter reaffirming his existing contract.

HBO declined to comment in any detail about the resolution, except for issuing a prepared statement from chairman and CEO Chris Albrecht.

"We are delighted that the great Jim Gandolfini will be back at work in the role he has created with such distinction," Albrecht said.

Published reports said that in negotiations just before Gandolfini filed his suit, he had sought $16 million a year, while HBO had offered $11 million. HBO won't comment on what it had offered the actor, but published reports said Gandolfini will wind up with the $11 million.

For the fourth season of The Sopranos, Gandolfini reportedly earned $400,000 for each of 13 episodes.

Through spokesman Dan Klores, Gandolfini released the following 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."