- Friday, Jul. 13, 2012
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- LOS ANGELES
The History channel has the beginnings of an Emmy pedigree when it comes to scripted miniseries, which on the surface seems incongruous since the first such project that the network has handled through completion--the lauded Hatfields & McCoys--has yet to earn an Emmy nomination even though it is considered a strong contender to do so in several categories next week when the primetime nominees are announced.
Still, the alluded to Emmy track record was set, at least indirectly, by History's first scripted miniseries endeavor, The Kennedys, which the channel ultimately decided not to run due to a political controversy over alleged historical inaccuracies. The project was picked up by ReelzChannel and went on to earn 10 Emmy nominations in 2011, including for Outstanding Miniseries or Made for TV Movie. The Kennedys wound up winning four Emmys--for Lead Actor (Barry Pepper), Sound Mixing, Makeup, and Hairstyling in a Miniseries.
Also last year, albeit outside the miniseries discipline, History separately scored an Emmy coup it could call its own with Gettysburg, which garnered seven nominations and won four Emmys--for Outstanding Nonfiction Special; Visual Effects for a Miniseries, Movie or Special; Sound Editing for Nonfiction Programming; and Outstanding Costumes for a Variety, Music Program or Special. Gettysburg represented the first major long-form splash for commercial director Adrian Moat of RSA Films. The nonfiction special was produced by RSA sister company Scott Free Productions in association with Herzog & Company.
Gettysburg shares a scheduling bond with Hatfields & McCoys in that they debuted during Memorial Day weekend in 2011 and '12, respectively, both to acclaim and healthy ratings numbers. The latter were record setting for Hatfields & McCoys, the miniseries which played out over three nights. The third night attracted 14.3 million total viewers, making it the number one entertainment telecast of all time on ad-supported cable. It took that crown from night one of Hatfields & McCoys which tallied 13.9 million. The second night garnered 13.1 million viewers. Additionally May 28-30 was the highest trafficked three-day (72-hour) period ever for History.com across all key metrics, scoring more than 1.6 million unique visitors.
Like most seemingly overnight success stories, the reality was quite different when it came to finally bringing Hatfields & McCoys to fruition. Dirk Hoogstra, sr. VP, programing and development for History, noted that the miniseries was "a passion project" for executive producer Leslie Greif, founder/CEO of production company Thinkfactory Media, who had several false starts for it over the past some 30 years, "He'd have the miniseries set up somewhere and the regime would change at whatever network and the deal would fall through," said Hoogstra. "But Leslie persevered."
The persevering Greif recollected, "When I started out in the business 30 years ago, it was the heyday of the miniseries--Roots, The Thorn Birds, The Winds of War and Rich Man, Poor Man. Like every young producer, I was looking for the next great story that could become the next great miniseries. For me, the story of the long-standing feud between the Hatfields and McCoys was timeless, a theme we could all relate to--a story about revenge, family, family honor and the cycle of violence, set against a backdrop of American history as the country was adapting and gaining its identity after the Civil War."
Greif remained steadfast in his belief that this was the perfect vehicle for a miniseries. "Over the past 30 years, I knocked on every door of every network," said Greif. "But network executives would change--out with the old, in with the new and I'd have to start all over again. Finally, one day the magic happened. I met the right executive at the right time, Nancy Dubuc [History's president and general manager], a visionary programmer who had the foresight and insight to see that there was an audience for this kind of a story in the form of an event miniseries."
Dubuc embraced the project. "She took to it right away and my predecessor, David McKillop, worked with Leslie on getting the script right, bringing in writer Ted Mann," noted Hoogstra.
Getting the "script right," continued Hoogstra, involved shaping it to appeal to History's predominantly male audience, showcasing at times the rougher, action-packed side of the story. As it turns out, while aimed at the network's core male viewership, Hatfields & McCoys proved alluring to females with the final audience split being 55 percent men and 45 percent women. History's viewership is usually closer to 70 percent men. It's been speculated that the appeal of Kevin Costner (who stars as Anse Hatfield) as well as the family themes of the miniseries resonated with women. "There's also a love story element," noted Hoogstra. "I remember watching rough cuts with my wife and she asked me to tell her when the next ones were available. She was into the story."
The script also proved "right" on another key front, said Hoogstra, who came aboard History just when the network decided to formally green light the project. "The next thing I hear, Kevin Costner has fallen in love with the script," recalled Hoogstra. "He was committed as long as we promised not to change a word....Once you have someone like him involved, it makes the casting and finding a director that much easier. We found ourselves putting together something cinematic. And when you see the finished work, nothing about it feels like TV."
That cinematic feel was fostered by director Kevin Reynolds and a cast featuring Costner, Bill Paxton (as Randall McCoy), Tom Berenger, Powers Booth, Mare Winningham, Matt Barr, Noel Fisher, Boyd Holbrook, Andrew Howard, Jena Malone, Sarah Parish, Lindsay Pulsiper and Ronan Vibert. Director Reynolds' filmography includes two features with Costner--Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and Waterworld.
Greif credited Costner's agent, Brad Slater of William Morris Endeavor (WME) Entertainment, with being instrumental in connecting him with Costner and in building momentum for the project. "I didn't know Kevin Costner," related Greif. "I took a longshot, called and talked to Brad, one of the most remarkable agents working today. Most agents are blockers. In the case of Brad, he was a quarterback. I hiked him the ball and he ran with it, getting it to Costner. Brad is one of those in the agents' world who is positive and supportive."
Eliciting positive feedback from History and Costner was a welcomed departure for what had been the norm in terms of what Greif previously encountered on Hatfields & McCoys. "There were a lot of naysayers over the years," said Greif. "'Kids won't like it.' 'Women won't like it.' 'It's an old story.' 'Nobody likes westerns'--even though, this isn't a western. 'There's no international appeal.' 'Everything out of the Civil War era has been played out already.' Well the exact opposite was the case as this story struck a chord with History's audience--we did great with female viewers, great with the coveted youth demographic. I heard we broke audience records in Canada and now there's much anticipation in the international market. What I take away from all this is that a timeless story is just that, timeless, as relevant today as it was back then. A story about two families, friends, a love story, the feud--these are all elements that people can relate to."
Greif is already an Emmy-nominated producer, having earned that distinction in 2007 for Turner Classic Movies' Brando in the Outstanding Nonfiction Special category. The prospect of once again entering the nominees' circle, this time for Hatfields & McCoys, would be particularly special for Greif in light of all the contributors to the miniseries.
"An Emmy nomination is affirmation from your peers that you've achieved quality work. It would be a great honor and I'd like to see the artists who brought so much to this recognized," said Greif. "We made this for really little money, shot in the mountains of Romania under difficult circumstances. From the cast to the local crew to the post team, everybody worked on this as a labor of love, not for an overwhelming amount of money. Every department on this picture gave a stellar performance, from wardrobe to production design and all the rest. We built those cabins in the mountains. We were in the element--we didn't have the luxury of Hollywood backlots and big budgets yet the end result was very cinematic, which is a credit to all the talented people involved."
The competition has gotten tougher in that the Television Academy last year merged the best TV movie and miniseries categories into one. "It's actually movies, miniseries and limited series all rolled into one," noted Greif. "It's a disappointing decision. These are three different art forms now grouped against one another. A two-hour TV movie is quite different from a limited series totaling eight or 10 hours--each closed one-hours with different cliffhangers, different budgets, different directors. And then you have a miniseries like ours with one cast, one director, for which there won't be a season two, having to hold an audience for three different evenings. It's like putting a sitcom, a reality show and a drama--30 Rock, Survivor and Criminal Minds--all in the same category and awarding one as best series of the year. That would not be a true reflection of the accomplishments of these great shows. Essentially that's what the powers that be have done [in miniseries, movies and limited series] with the Emmys.
Just as Emmy judges will have tough choices in terms of this year's nominees and eventual winners, the choice of Hatfields & McCoys required careful deliberation as History's first complete, full fledged entry into scripted miniseries. "It was a crucial decision," said Hoogstra, noting that the right project and its success were needed in order to build momentum for the network's first scripted series, The Vikings, which is scheduled to premiere next year. "Viewers don't make the distinction between broadcast, cable, ad-supported or premium pay TV. We had to be right about Hatfields & McCoys. We knew from the get-go that if you're going to do a scripted miniseries, it's go big or go home."
Hatfields & McCoys was produced for History by Thinkfactory Media, with Greif serving as executive producer for Thinkfactory. Story was by Bill Kerby and Ted Mann. Miniseries was written by Mann (episodes 1, 2 and 3) and Ronald Parker (episodes 2 and 3). Dubuc and Hoogstra exec produced for History. Producers were Costner, Darrell Fetty and Herb Nanas. Barry Berg was supervising producer. Cinematographer was Arthur Reinhart. Don Cassidy was the editor. Derek R. Hill served as production designer.
In a quick turnaround which strikes while the proverbial iron is hot, the DVD release of Hatfields & McCoys is slated for July 31.
This is the first installment in an 11-part series that will explore the field of Emmy nominees and winners spanning such disciplines as directing, cinematography, editing, animation and VFX. The series will run right through the Creative Arts Emmys ceremony and the following week's primetime Emmy Awards live telecast. In addition to appearing on SHOOTonline and in our weekly email newsletter, The SHOOT>e.dition, The Road to Emmy will also have its Part 6 installment in SHOOT's August 17 print issue (for details on the issue, please visit: www.shootonline.com/go/upcomingissues).