TOP OF THE NEWS: Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow announced their engagement today.

THERE FOR THEM: After months of negotiations, the cast of Friends signed a contract good to the year 2000. They'll reportedly each get $75,000 an episode in the first year, about twice their previous rate.

EARLY RISER: NBC announced that Today show news anchor Matt Lauer will replace Bryant Gumbel as co-host after the 15-year-veteran of the show leaves January 3.

FACING COURT: Actor Charlie Sheen faces a January 7 court date on a charge of assaulting his girlfriend at his home near Los Angeles.

HIGHS AND LOWS: The Recording Industry Association of America shows platinum album certifications down 17 percent in 1996 and multiplatinum down 20 percent. A record goes platinum after one million copies are sold. One big problem for the industry: U.S. consumers have largely finished replacing their vinyl collections with CDs....On the other hand, the RIAA also said that Jagged Little Pill, Alanis Morrisette's 1996 album, was the best-selling debut by a female artist in the history of American music.

MORE OVITZ: Some clever drudge at Daily Variety noticed in Mike Ovitz's separation deal that he could get $250 million if allowed to hold his Disney stock for five years and if that stock keeps appreciating as Wall Street analysts expect--and if Disney stockholders don't block him from holding it that long. By the way, you can read his contract with Disney by visiting this government site and searching for his name.

UNION SUIT: The International Association of Machinists filed a libel suit against Disney because a fictional member of the union was identified as one of the kidnappers in the movie, Ransom.

LIFE AND ART: A Los Angeles TV station has turned up a story written by Justin Simpson it says was entered into evidence in the custody case. Justin and his friends solve a murder mystery and learn the killer is his father.

TRY AGAIN: Quentin Tarantino and director Robert Rodriguez are working on a sequel and a prequel to their vampire western movie From Dusk Till Dawn, which starred George Clooney, Tarantino and Harvey Keitel and opened to slow business last January. No cast signed for either new film yet.

DE-FROCKED: Daily Variety reports that HBO has put its biography of J. Edgar Hoover on hold because it could not resolve such issues as whether to portray the late FBI director as a cross-dresser.

ENDLESS SUMMER: The top five video rentals last week, according to VideoLog: The Rock, Independence Day, Mission Impossible, Tin Cup (just out), The Nutty Professor.

BEST DISHES: A new study of direct broadcast satellite dishes says they're pulling away significant numbers of the wealthiest cable subscribers.

RESCUE ATTEMPT: ABC is flip-flopping its Sunday nightlineup, moving the struggling drama Lois & Clark to the 7-8 p.m.slot from the 8-9 p.m. slot and bumping up America's FunniestHome Videos in its place.

NEW BLOOD: MTV veteran Dan Cortese is taking arecurring role in the NBC sitcom The Single Guy, with hischaracter, a hard-partying investment banker, being introduced in the January 23 episode. For all the casting news, see The Dotted Line.

FRONT LINES: Actress Halle Berry is spending the Christmas season making appearances at U.S. military bases in Europe.

DEATH: Margret E. Rey, who with her husbandcreated a series of beloved children's books featuring "CuriousGeorge," the inquisitive monkey, has died at her home inCambridge, Massachusetts at 90.

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