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Prof’s ‘Ocean’ makes waves

This article was corrected on Feb. 21, 2001.

NEW YORK — Yale law professor Stephen L. Carter emerged from the ivory tower last week and shook the book world from its February doldrums.

A heated auction for Carter’s first novel, “The Emperor of Ocean Park,” concluded late last week, with Knopf tendering the winning $4 million bid. The deal is for two novels, but even half that advance would make it one of the highest on record for a first novel.

Warner Bros., John Wells Prods. and Gaylord Films swiftly moved to take “Emperor” off the Hollywood market over the weekend, optioning the novel in a preemptive deal worth seven figures.

Book concerns an African-American law professor thrown into a deadly game when he investigates the mysterious death of his father, a legendary conservative judge. It’s a radical departure for a legal scholar whose two previous books — “The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion” and “Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby” — are hardly the stuff of Hollywood cinema.

Gotham lit agent Lynn Nesbit sent the 900-odd-page manuscript of “Emperor” to publishers nearly two weeks ago, igniting a bidding war that ended with sibling imprints Knopf and Random House squaring off last week with dueling $4 million bids.

Almost immediately, a badly photocopied version, printed in what one scout said was “10-point type,” appeared on the desks of development execs across town. The Warners deal prompted sighs of relief among some execs, grateful they no longer have to read the behemoth manuscript.

The studio acquisition, brokered by CAA, is Lorenzo Di Bonaventura’s first since reupping with Warner. Warner exec veep Kevin McCormick, Gaylord prexy Hunt Lowry and John Wells prexy Kristin Harms will oversee the project.

As a feature, the pic may require an A-list, African-American thesp in his late 30s for the lead — a casting imperative that could be hard to meet. But if actors respond to the book as keenly as publishers have, Warner will have nothing to worry about. Knopf publicity director Paul Bogards told Daily Variety that he expected it to be “an out-of-the-box bestseller.”

Nesbit was not available for comment Tuesday, but for a moment last week, she emerged from behind the scenes to announce a deal for another client, Michael Crichton, who left Knopf to publish his next two books at HarperCollins (Daily Variety, Feb. 14). Crichton will receive $40 million for those books.

News of that deal, which broke Tuesday as word leaked out that bidding for Carter’s books had reached $4 million, signaled a milestone for Nesbit. Very few lit agents have done $44 million in business in one day.

TALK MIRAMAX BOOKS will take part May 1 in the global launch of Eoin Colfer’s “Artemis Fowl,” a novel that Miramax co-chair Harvey Weinstein hopes will knock Harry Potter off his broomstick.

Story, like the Harry Potter series, has a precocious young lead character, but it will be marketed as a book for all ages. It’s under option at Miramax Films and Tribeca Prods., and the two companies have been quietly moving forward on that front. They’ve attached a screenwriter, Jeff Stockwell, to adapt it.

Stockwell knows his way around the teen demographic. An actor who appeared in ’80s teen pics like “Christine” and “Losin’ It,” Stockwell now has several writing credits under his belt, including the Mark Wahlberg starrer “Rockstar” and “Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys,” the Jodie Foster pic recently yanked from Sundance after it became clear it wouldn’t be finished in time.

THE FIRST ISSUE OF GOTHAM, the new oversize glossy from Hamptons magazine publisher Jason Binn, hits newsstands later this week. But after launching regional magazines for Miami, the Hamptons and New York, Binn already is hatching plans for his next market: Los Angeles.

Binn’s L.A. magazine, which may be called Confidential, is expected to debut sometime later this year. If he succeeds at raking in as much advertising in Hollywood as he has in New York, it could stir up the Los Angeles mag market. At 400 pages, the first issue of Gotham is said to carry $7 million in ads.

It’s not clear, however, if the editorial side of Binn’s L.A. magazine will differ much from Gotham. That magazine already has considerable star wattage, with stories on Kate Hudson and Ed Burns. Liv Tyler is on the cover.

A NEW FLORIDA-BASED FILM company, K.B. Prods., formed by film scholar Bill Rothman and documentarian Kitty Morgan, is in talks with Melvin Van Peebles to direct and possibly adapt “Coq au Vin,” a mystery by Charlotte Carter that K.B. just optioned.

The deal could be worth in the mid-six figures if a film is made, and K.B. retains an option to pick up the rest of the series.

The second book in a series published by Warner, “Coq au Vin” features female African-American sleuth Nannette Hayes, who plays the saxophone on the streets of New York and Paris; it revolves around the expat jazz scene.

Carter, who’s repped by Donadio & Olson’s Ira Silverberg and AMG’s Judy Farkas, just sold another mystery series to Ballantine/One World. It concerns an elderly couple who are stalwart members of Chicago’s black community in 1968 and the turbulent politics of the day.

Morgan, who used to run an indie film distribution company in Gotham, Independent Cinema Artists & Producers, is likely to produce the feature with Rothman and Alan Sherr. Carter de Haven will exec produce.

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