Halmi trumpets TV’s upside

GOOD MORNING: “We can do anything — ANYthing — on television that they do in (theatrical) movies,” Robert Halmi Sr. proclaimed Monday as he preemed RHI Entertainment’s version of “Gypsy” starring Bette Midler. The three-hour telepic , which airs Dec. 12 on CBS, got a movie-like sendoff Monday night at the El Capitan theatre, followed by a celebration next door at the Colonnades. Halmi pointed out the total viewership of legit “Gypsy” companies since Ethel Merman’s bow May 21, 1959, totals 2,868,750. “One night on CBS, 25 million will see it,” he predicts. Today, Halmi says he can pay more to get the best stories and scripts — for TV movies. He paid $ 9 million for “Scarlett”– and quickly adds, “We are ahead already.” The mini will come in at $ 40 million, with locations in England, the U.S. and Ireland. “Scarlett” will be seen simultaneously around the world and heard in 17 languages, he also adds … While willing to spend record sums for literary projects, he vehemently refuses to pay “$ 10 million for an actor and $ 5 million for a director. But I’m not greedy.” He says authors will be happy to work for his TV versions, because “I can tell their stories in six-eight hours to give justice to their writing. That’s why Larry McMurtry (now) loves me.” His “Streets of Laredo” will be a six-hour mini for CBS. Halmi adds authors are also happy to see their works TV’d by him because renewed book sales result … Although Halmi’s not planning a feature program, he may go the bigscreen route with “Robinson Crusoe” because of the location he discovered in Papua, New Guinea. He showed me a series of spectacular photographs of the unspoiled jungle and equally unchanged and colorful natives. He’s meeting with Mark Harmon to star … Peter Strauss and Jean Smart will star in his CBS version of the classic “Yearling,” to start in North Carolina next week, when he also starts the CBS telepic of Ivana Trump’s “For Love Alone.” In 1963, Bill Holden bought the script of “No Picnic On Mount Kenya,” and now, Halmi who was Holden’s Kenya neighbor, will make the film. He promises, “It will outdo ‘Cliffhanger.’ ” Njeri Karago will produce, starting Jan. 17. She will also produce “The Hunt” in Africa, with Christopher Reeve directing well as starring. And, RHI and Merchant-Ivory reteam for “A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries.”

AL PACINO AND BEN GAZZARA co-star in Ira Lewis’ comedy-drama “Chinese Coffee” for producer Alexander Cohen and directed by Arvin Brown at the Stamford, Conn., Community Arts Center Stage, bowing Dec. 7 for four weeks and — ?… Michael Ovitz, Ron Meyer and Bill Haber host a reception honoring President Clinton Dec. 4 at CAA to benefit the Democratic National Committee. A dinner follows for heavy contributors at the home of Barbara and Marvin Davis … The City of Beverly Hills honors Ann Miller today and a dinner follows at Chasen’s. Annie’s lived in the same BevHills house since 1942 … Barbara Walters airs a special with Julia Roberts, Whitney Houston and Tim Allen Nov. 9, same night Walters is among honorees inducted into Broadcasting & Cable Magazine’s Hall Of Fame in D.C. Other inductees include Gene Autry, Phil Donahue,John Hendricks, Don Hewitt , Bob Magness, Bruce Morrow, Ralph Roberts, Lucie Salhany and Richard Wiley — plus a posthumous list. Candice Bergen will femcee a May 7 N.Y. Friars’ tribute to Walters at the Waldorf. On the Nov. 9 special, Barbara sez, Whitney Houston and Julia Roberts both told her they were fed up with rumors printed about both of ’em. “Aren’t the facts interesting enough?” they echoed. When I asked Walters what she thought of Connie Chung guesting Heidi Fleiss, Walters said, “Good for her (Connie).” And reminded that TV is all about ratings.

SPEAKER WILLIE BROWN performed the wedding ceremony of Stan Herman and Sheila Campbell at Herman’s home Friday. And among those at the feed for Willie Brown Saturday night was former coastal commissioner Mark Nathanson, who starts his jail sentence later this week. Nathanson and Dani Janssen were also among those toasting Jack Haley Jr.’s 60th birthday. How many in this business do you know who will readily admit to that age on a birthday invite? Haley, looking particularly hale, having returned from a five-week health farm outing, greeted family and friends at his longtime hilltop home. His mom Flo topped the list, of course. Others on hand included Sherry Lansing and Billy Friedkin, Charles Bronson and Kim Weeks, David Niven Jr., Nicky Blair, Connie Stevens and daughter Joely, Leslie and Evie Bricusse, Stefanie Powers, Victoria Principal and Nancy Sinatra Jr., in from Vegas where she caught father Frank and brother Frank Jr. at the Desert Inn. Also there, the David Wolpers, Robert Culp, Debbie Chenoweth, the Ira Reiners.