While Tim Burton has decided to let Joel Schumacher succeed him behind the camera on “Batman III,” the director wants to take the reins on the top-secret Catwoman spinoff project that Warner Bros. is developing, DISH hears.

No deals have been signed yet, but sources say Daniel Waters, the screenwriter of “Batman Returns,” has agreed to return and find a viable plotline for Catwoman, the villainous feline played by Michelle Pfeiffer, who many feel stole the last movie.

Denise Di Novi, who produced “Batman Returns,” is also mulling a return. The studio wouldn’t comment.

Burton will be executive producer of “Batman III,” which will be scripted by Lee and Janet Batchler (“Smoke and Mirrors”) and will focus on the Riddler, a role long coveted by Robin Williams.

CARAVAN CONVERGENCE: Since 21-year-old twin brothers Allen and Albert Hughes made their directorial feature debut with New Line’s “Menace II Society,” the duo has been courted by every studio in town, with New Line trying feverishly to keep them in the fold.

The courting continues, but DISH hears that Caravan, the Disney shingle headed by former Fox chief Joe Roth, has the inside track, offering an exclusive deal for two pictures. The Hughes Bros., who co-directed and co-wrote the $ 3 million “Menace” after doing a five-minute, $ 250 short film that served as Albert’s film school project at Los Angeles Community College, are developing several of their own followup projects, reportedly including another gritty street drama called “Public Enemez.”

Sources say Disney has been eager. Studio topper Jeffrey Katzenberg personally visited the Brothers Hughes and chatted it up with them until 1:30 a.m. … two hours past his normal bedtime.

But Disney may not have the deal sewn up yet. Warner Bros. reportedly is dangling a project called “The Specialist” in front of them. At one time, Steven Seagal was attached to the project.

EDDIE GOES TO THE DOGS: While it seems like a dog’s age since Eddie Murphy’s had a blockbuster, things are looking up for Murphy at Par. Aside from “Beverly Hills Cop III,” which has been resuscitated with a Steven De Souza script, DISH hears the studio’s also exploring putting Eddie in a dog picture.

Paramount is negotiating for the rights to “Adios, Hollywood: Dick the Dog of Oaxaca,” a St. Martin’s Press novel by Rose Goldemberg, who wrote the script for the acclaimed miniseries “The Burning Bed.” This is a lot funnier, sources say. The film would be live-action, with the protagonist a mixed-breed dog who relocates to Hollywood to become a star, then winds up falling in love with a starlet named Wanda. She understands the dog’s thoughts and gets him to do what she wants in front of the cameras.

Meanwhile, the dog’s thoughts can also be heard by the audience, with Murphy providing the voice, the same way Bruce Willis provided coherent thoughts from an infant in the “Look Who’s Talking” films. Since the dog acts, it would allow Murphy to inject creativity into the project. In fact, the studio considers the pic a mix between “Look Who’s Talking” and “Beethoven.” Dick’s crisis comes when the dog becomes super famous, separating him from the people he really cares about. Other Par sources say a deal has proved elusive.

HYPERBOLE BEGINS: There are few brilliant marketing campaigns for films. So why shouldn’t different studios use one of the few good ones at nearly the same time. Warner Bros. tells us, “The chase is on Aug. 6,” when “The Fugitive” opens. Meanwhile, Universal cautions that “the hunt begins on Aug. 20,” when the Jean-Claude Van Damme starrer “Hard Target” arrives at a theater near you. Both owe a debt to Paramount’s “The hunt begins” teaser campaign for “The Hunt for Red October.”

GRISHAM INTRIGUE: The town is still talking about the incredible record sale of John Grisham’s unwritten next novel for $ 3.75 million to Universal Pictures. The back story — pieced together from sources at the studio as well as competitors — is as fascinating as the sale itself.

Just as “The Firm” opened to huge business, Grisham’s literary agent, Jay Garon, was secretly flown to Hollywood by Warner Bros. and producer John Davis, who co-produced “The Firm” and got Grisham to agree to entrust him with the book. WB got an exclusive first shot at the property. Garon wasn’t selling unless he could do better than the $ 3.5 million Warners gave Michael Crichton for his finished manuscript about sexual harassment.

At a meeting, Davis and Garon gave WB brass an envelope with a short plot description, about a man on death row whose case is taken by a young attorney, with neither knowing the legal eagle is the murderer’s grandson. WB wasn’t allowed to copy the document, and gave it back. This short synopsis wasn’t enough for the studio, which declined to take the book off the market for slightly more than the $ 3.75 million U ultimately paid.

After that, Paramount was approached, and the studio wanted to tie Grisham into a lengthier pact. The deal languished, for reasons that are still unclear. One theory is that Grisham may have been a reluctant partner, since Par didn’t exactly put the author on a pedestal. Alan Pakula actively lobbied the writer to entrust him with “The Pelican Brief,” which is shaping up to be a big film for Warner Bros.

But Grisham wasn’t among the principals who got Mercedes convertibles from Paramount when the film’s gross went through the roof, and sources say he wasn’t among those thanked at the lavish New York premiere, a benefit for the Robert Steel Foundation. Most important, Par didn’t have a director attached.

At the same time, Imagine’s production head David Friendly was aggressively searching for a book Ron Howard could direct. Within 24 hours, he’d hit the motherlode, when Davis told him the Grisham book was still available. Almost immediately, Davis was excitedly giving a verbal plot pitch. Present were Universal honchos Tom Pollock and Casey Silver and Friendly. Imagine principals Brian Grazer and Ron Howard were on a conference line from Gotham, where they’re filming “The Paper.” Based solely on the pitch, Universal closed the deal the following evening.

The notion of paying record bucks for a novel that hasn’t been written is less surprising when it’s taken into account that Grisham is getting $ 9 million to write the book, and “The Firm” could do $ 400 million worldwide. Indeed, the pitch basically came down to one word: Grisham. The principals wouldn’t comment on how the deal went down.

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