CBS AND A GROUP of American and European investors yesterday bought the television rights to "Scarlett," the sequel to "Gone With the Wind," for a record $8 million in a deal that stunned Hollywood.
Several Hollywood executives and agents said the highest price previously paid for the rights to a book was about $2.5 million for Gay Talese's "Thy Neighbor's Wife," which was never made into a movie.
"There's nothing like this in the history of the publishing business," said Irene Webb, vice president of the motion-picture and literary departments of the William Morris Agency, which worked out the deal.
"It sold at this price because it's a huge best seller, the international market is expanding and numerous international conglomerates saw this as a way of getting into the international TV and motion-picture markets with a big splash," she said. "'Scarlett' is the perfect vehicle."
The book, written by Alexandra Ripley and published by Warner Books, quickly became the nation's best-selling book despite generally poor reviews.
It has been at the top of the New York Times best-seller list since Oct. 13.
The deal followed more than a month of intense bidding, supervised by the William Morris Agency, which represented the estate of Margaret Mitchell, author of "Gone With the Wind." The estate, which picked Ripley to write the sequel, owns the rights to it.
The buyers said "Scarlett" would be broadcast as a mini-series, probably in 1993.
CBS' partners in the deal are Robert Halmi, the New York-based chairman of RHI Entertainment Inc., which produced the television mini-series "Lonesome Dove" for CBS; Kirch Group of Germany, a communications conglomerate, and Silvio Berlusconi, an Italian newspaper and broadcasting owner.