J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, January 06, 2013

Pilots of the Revolution

Founders’ Chic is apparently washing up on American television, just a few years after H.B.O.’s John Adams miniseries garnered acclaim. Late last year, Deadline.com reported on two networks starting work on different series set in eighteenth-century America.

N.B.C. is developing George Washington, a drama that David Seidler will adapt from Ron Chernow’s biography of the first President. Barry Levinson is slated to direct the pilot if the project gets that far. That’s two Oscar winners working with Carnival Films & Television, the company behind Downton Abbey. The article states:
George Washington is described as an intimate look at the enigmatic leader who became the father of a nation on one side of the Atlantic and a terrorist on the other, a man to be eliminated at all costs by the British Crown. As episodes move back and forth through the war hero and President’s life and tell the little-known and unlikely story of his survival and triumph, his true character is revealed for the first time. And he is not the man who chopped down the cherry tree.

“There’s George Washington the national icon, gazing out from the dollar bill with his mouthful of supposedly wooden teeth, and then there’s the George Washington who had an adulterous affair with his best friend’s wife,” Seidler said. “The George Washington obsessed with social status, finely-tailored clothes, his image. Not an icon, a very human human-being, who learned how to lead. That’s the man I want to understand.”
That “adulterous affair” is presumably young Washington’s relationship with Sally Fairfax. Historians and biographers debate how far they actually went, but he certainly flirted in letters to her. Chernow actually concluded that Fairfax “rebuffed” Washington’s declaration of love, and that his brief “infatuation” faded quickly. So has Seidler decided that making television drama, or at least promoting it, requires declaring that there definitely was “an adulterous affair”?

Over at A.M.C., the network has expressed interest in a comedy called We Hate Paul Revere. It centers on “two brothers living in Colonial Boston who are not fans of local industrialist and activist Paul Revere.” I don’t think it’s fair to call Revere an “industrialist” until after “Colonial Boston” had given way to Federal Boston, so I have questions about the historical accuracy of this one, too. There’s definitely fodder for comedy in pre-Revolutionary Boston—social friction can always be funny. But getting the history right might give the result even less mass appeal than The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer.

Of course, I’m not holding my breath for either of these shows to appear in my cable box. Neither yet appears to be at the pilot stage, much less scheduled to air. Many more movies and television shows go into “development” than come out on screens. Back in 1995, the Los Angeles Times and Variety were reporting that Ben Stiller was about to direct himself and Danny DeVito in Spies and Innkeepers, “a comedy set in the American Revolution” written by Jeff Kahn. That never happened, though Universal still owns the property.

(Picture above from an April 1984 issue of TV Guide showing Mike Wallace interviewing Barry Bostwick as George Washington. Remember that miniseries? Jaclyn Smith played Sally Fairfax, and who wouldn’t be infatuated with her?)


Peter Fisk said...

The Paul Revere show is presumably based on the Sarah Palin version of American history. They hate Paul Revere for ringin' all them bells and warnin' the British that the Americans was comin'.

Donna Thorland said...

There's also a Culper Ring project in development at AMC:


Based on Alexander Rose’s book Washington’s Spies, Turn is set in the summer of 1778 and tells the story of New York farmer Abe Woodhull, who bands together with a group of childhood friends to form The Culper Ring, an unlikely group of spies who turn the tide in America’s fight for independence. The project, from AMC Studios, is written/executive produced by Silverstein and exec produced by Josephson.

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for that news and link. That set-up reminds me of what I've read of The Young Rebels, broadcast back in 1970.

John L Smith Jr said...

A couple other potential flicks in the works also: the first film I was ever in was "The Conspirator", Redford's tale of Civil War boarding house mistress Mary Surratt. Produced by the American Film Co., whose mission is to bring to the screen "historically accurate" stories. In development by AFC is "Midnight Riders", based on the Revere story + the other circuit riders. Also HBO and Tom Hanks' Playtone are in the script development stage for David McCullough's "1776", since their "John Adams" miniseries did so well for HBO. >>I told my agent I NEED to be in BOTH of these productions!<< Anyway...some things to look forward to for allof us!

J. L. Bell said...

We all had a good chat here about Midnight Riders back in 2011, and yet to my knowledge not one of us has been invited to work on that movie. No justice in this world, I tell you.

Don Carleton (Jr.) said...

The Deadline.com piece must have been just regurgitating the producer's breathless press release in glossing the British Crown's view of GW as "a terrorist...a man to be eliminated at all costs." Anachronistic PR hyperbole aside, what might London have done with Washington or other key Revolutionary leaders (civilian or military)had they been captured by British military authorities on the battlefield or elsewhere? An interesting possible topic for a future blog post?