Halmi works at breakneck pace

GOOD MORNING: You have to fasten your seat belt when you sit down to breakfast with Robert Halmi — as I did Wednesday at the BevWilshire. He breezed into town the night before, met with Neil Simon, for whom he’s in post on “London Suite” and readying “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” then, after our tete-a-tete, Halmi hied to Santa Monica to visit the set of his “Tim,” which stars longtime friend Candice Bergen. Today, he meets with Angela Lansbury, who stars for him (CBS, again) in the musical’d (Jerry Herman) “Mrs. Santa Claus.” Then Halmi heads to Calgary for the start of his TV’d “In Cold Blood” with Sam Neill, Eric Roberts and Anthony Andrews. With the phone ringing at his table, Halmi said he’d set Andrei Konchalovsky (“Runaway Train”) to direct his mammoth “Odyssey,” four hours for NBC, starring Armand Assante — plus “six of the most beautiful women (sirens) in the world”… Halmi’s signed Michael Anderson (“Around the World in 80 Days”) to direct his “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” a $12 million-plus, two-hour CBS’er. He also acquired Robert Ludlum’s bestseller “Apocalypse Watch,” which is as timely as today’s headlines about international militia groups — four hours for ABC. He called for info on digital doings for flood scenes for his “Noah’s Ark” and f/x for “Aftershock” (post-earthquake). He also talked about bigscreen features — like “The Soldier’s Daughter” to be directed by James Ivory, who did his “Mr. & Mrs. Bridge” with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. As for other features, he said he’d keep them in the same small artful niche. No big feature tie-ups with studios. “I want to control my destiny — they (studios) take up too much time,” he smiled, called his N.Y. office, and put in a bid for a writer on one of his dozens of other dream projects, which will soon be a reality, you can bet. Waiter, some aspirin, pliz.

“I WAS INTERESTED,” admitted Alan Alda, about joining “Murder One” now that Daniel Benzali’s bye-bye’d. “I talked with Steven Bochco, who was writing a character for the next season.” But Alda laughingly admitted he didn’t think coming back into series TV opposite “Seinfeld” would be an auspicious return. “I was surprised I was even interested,” admitted Alda, “but he (Bochco) is such a formidable writer it sounded like a possibility.” Meanwhile, Alda has been busy with telepics, plus the bigscreen Woody Allen “Everybody Says I Love You,” in which he and Goldie Hawn duet — as parents of Drew Barrymore — plus globe-circling duties on PBS’ “Scientific American Frontiers”… Peter Graves, who played Jim Phelps from 1967 to 1973 on the “Mission: Impossible” series, says he has a “percentage of the ownership” of the show, but hasn’t yet seen any profits. “I may take them (Par) to court,” he said. Graves adds, “It wasn’t very nice” that he wasn’t invited to the preem (or a screening) of the Tom Cruise starrer, in which Jon Voight plays the Phelps role — reconsidered. Graves will talk about it Sunday on the FX cable channel, on which he’s seen every day in the “Mission: Impossible” series reruns. He also claimed he had talked to Par about doing a feature version of the series — a la “Star Trek”–“for 15 years.” And also spoke to brother Jim Arness about doing a joint feature — they never appeared onscreen together although, Graves directed Arness in several “Gunsmokes.” Peter’s now off to N.Y. to tape 12-15 wraparounds for the “Biography” series, which he hosts.

THE L.A. TIMES WAS SET to announce the demise of its Sunday Life and Style section, with a final section May 26, but a hold order came down from the publisher Wednesday. Stay tuned … Although Nicky Blair’s restaurant in Las Vegas opens Saturday, Nicky will not be on hand until next month, when he expects to be fully recuped from recent surgery. His army of showbiz pals wish him well on his recovery and his new eatery … Anne Bancroft didn’t attend the Tuesday night screening of “The Miracle Worker,” part of the AFI Associates’ Classic American Film Series — she admitted she was too emotional — but watched it at home, where she shed copious tears. Then she appeared at Arnie Morton’s of Chicago on La Cienega, where Allen Bernstein had underwritten the entire AFI evening and where Anne, with moderator Leonard Maltin, told intimate stories about making the pic that won her and Patty Duke Oscars. Bancroft’s husband, Mel Brooks, added bon mots, natch, reminding that neither her Oscar-winning pic nor his “The Producers,” which won him an Oscar for writing — made any money. AFI CEO Jean Firstenberg and AFI Associates president Dolly Gillin welcomed the group, co-chaired by Bunny Stivers and Joan (Mrs. Martin) Ransohoff. Next classic pic to be lovingly remembered, June 18, is the Ransohoff-produced “The Americanization of Emily,” starring Julie Andrews, Jim Garner and Jim Coburn … Jenny has McCarthy signed an MTV pact to develop a sitcom or variety show. She covers the June 8 TV Guide and the month’s Rolling Stone mags.

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