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Abc At 'War' Again With Miniseries, Maxi-sequel

September 06, 1986|MORGAN GENDEL | Times Staff Writer

"War" is a thriving business at ABC.

Make that "The Winds of War" and its sequel, "War and Remembrance."

The former will be rebroadcast on ABC, beginning Sunday at 8 p.m. and continuing through Sept. 14. That's 18 hours of the second-most-watched miniseries in TV history during which ABC can air specially produced promotional spots for its new fall shows.

The sequel, meanwhile, is shooting away in England, France and Yugoslavia, with Robert Mitchum reprising his role as Navy Commander Victor (Pug) Henry, Jane Seymour taking over Ali MacGraw's role as Natalie Jastrow Henry and Sir John Gielgud as her Uncle Aaron, originally played by John Houseman.

The term miniseries hardly seems to apply. "War and Remembrance," adapted from Herman Wouk's novel of World War II and the Holocaust, has a $92-million budget, making it the most expensive single project in the history of filmed entertainment.

"It's like three, maybe four, different kinds of films," said Dan Curtis, who is executive producer, co-writer (with Wouk and Earl Wallace) and director of "War and Remembrance." "One is the Holocaust. Another is the naval battle stuff. Then there's the German generals and the whole German part of the war. And the fourth one is the personal story, Pug-Rhoda-Pamela, that whole business. So in reality you have four different pictures."

To bring viewers who remember "The Winds of War" up to date on "War and Remembrance": Natalie, her young son by Byron Henry (Hart Bochner in the Jan-Michael Vincent role) and her Uncle Aaron desperately try to escape from Europe. They wind up in concentration camps, while Pug becomes a key naval adviser. Meanwhile, Pug continues his affair with Pamela Tudsbury (Victoria Tennant), while his wife Rhoda (Polly Bergen) has affairs of her own stateside against the backdrop of the atom bomb project.

Pre-production began two years ago, but the project won't be completed for at least two more. The completed drama is expected to be so lengthy that it will likely air in three sections of 10 hours each.

"We certainly won't have to worry about the sweeps," said ABC Entertainment President Brandon Stoddard, referring to the key ratings periods used to determine the cost of TV advertising time. The three networks typically roll out their big guns during those key monthlong periods.

When Stoddard assumed his post last November, right before the merger of ABC and Capital Cities Communications began, those far-in-the-future dates were hardly his main concern. The more relevant question about "War and Remembrance" was: Would Thomas Murphy and Daniel Burke, the thrift-minded bosses at Cap Cities, want to pick up the tab for a project whose cost will probably make the "Guinness Book of Records"?

"It was a very tough decision," Stoddard said, "because at the time they were making it--last November--they said, 'Now, when is it going to be on the air--next year?' And I said, 'No, no. Three years from now!'

"Who knows where network television is going to be three years from now? What ad rates are going to be? Who knows anything?"

The new executives at Cap Cities/ABC, however, believed, as Stoddard did, that "War and Remembrance" was going to be very, very successful.

First they had to consider the significant "brush-off for the network," as Stoddard put it--the prestige that would accrue to ABC for such a global, sweeping project. It is part of ABC's personality profile, after all, to air such important miniseries as "Roots" and "The Thorn Birds."

Second, "War and Remembrance" is considered a more compelling story than "The Winds of War" as it deals with the actual events of World War II, which was only beginning at the end of "Winds." " 'The Winds of War,' as Herman (Wouk) has said, is sort of a prologue to 'War and Remembrance,' " Stoddard said.

Third, despite the $90-million-plus budget figure confirmed by Stoddard, ABC is confident it can turn a profit. That's not quite so difficult to fathom when you consider that the network is really getting the equivalent of three major miniseries for its money and that advertisers will pay a premium for the huge audience anticipated.

Also, ABC is the producer and primary owner of "War and Remembrance," not Paramount Pictures, which produced "The Winds of War" and will be distributing the sequel overseas. Syndication and foreign play plus a potential videocassette deal will all help nudge its balance sheet into the black.

"I don't believe we're going to make the profit you make off of Bill Cosby, but there will be one," Stoddard said.

The problems facing Curtis have been more physical than fiscal.

"It's backbreaking material," said Curtis, who produced and directed "The Winds of War" and was a key factor in ABC's decision to make the sequel. "You finish at the end of the day and you don't know how you're going to face it the next day."

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