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NBC Drops Rock Hudson Miniseries : Television: Producers and writer of 'authorized' story say the network is basing its decision on lackluster ratings from an earlier ABC movie.

March 20, 1990|IRV LETOFSKY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The critically panned version of Rock Hudson's life as related in a two-hour ABC movie last January may suffice as his television biography of record. NBC has decided to drop its plans for a four-hour "authorized" miniseries that has been in development for about a year and a half.

The decision has angered the producers and writer, who charge that NBC was reacting to the lackluster ratings for the ABC movie rather than to the quality of their script.

NBC denied the allegation. Tony Masucci, NBC senior vice president for movies and miniseries, said through a spokeswoman that, "We felt it (the script) didn't work well enough conceptually or dramatically to warrant further development for a four-hour miniseries." He added that he was hoping for a script "as big and compelling as the man."

The NBC spokeswoman pointed out that it's not unusual for a network to drop such projects, noting that "70% of the shows in development never get made."

Carmen Culver, who wrote the script for the Hudson miniseries and was to have co-produced it with Stan Margulies, with whom she had teamed on "The Thorn Birds," called Masucci's explanation "a very strange response" inasmuch as he never conveyed that reaction to her. Nor had Margulies or co-executive producer Ken Kaufman been advised of any script problems.

Margulies, who won Emmys as the producer of "Roots" and "Roots: The Next Generations," told on Friday that NBC claimed it was not a ratings decision, shot back that "if the network says today is Friday, would you not want to check the calendar?"

"I think what it comes down to in television, the determining factor, is who is first," Margulies said. "First is more important than accuracy, the well-written script, a quality production--and I think that's what done us in. We were second. I mean, I saw the ABC project and, apart from any questions of taste--which we don't have time to go into--(there's) the question of accuracy. I was just appalled at their interpretation of things that I know to be otherwise.

"Now that is not the issue. They were on the air. They had the benefit of a Rock Hudson audience and NBC, despite their protestations, looked at the ratings and obviously felt if the first Rock Hudson project only did that, the second one will not do as well."

The ABC movie, which aired Jan. 8, was knocked by many critics, attracted only a so-so 24% of the audience and suffered some advertiser defections because of concern over the depiction of Hudson's homosexuality. The actor had kept that part of his life hidden from the public until the end--when his AIDS was revealed. He died in 1985 at age 58.

The movie was produced by Konigsberg/Sanitsky Co., written by Dennis Turner and directed by John Nicolella. Major sources for the script were court records on a civil suit brought against Hudson by his former lover, Marc Christian, and a book by his former wife, Phyllis Gates. (Christian sued the Hudson estate and Hudson's longtime secretary, Mark Miller, for emotional stress and won $5.5 million.)

At the center of the movie was a supposed plot by Hudson and Miller to keep the actor's AIDS a secret from Christian. Miller told Christian in the movie that Hudson was afflicted with anorexia. Miller has accused the movie of malicious lies.

Culver's script for NBC was based on the authorized biography by Sara Davidson, "Rock Hudson: His Story," and considerable research and interviews through the cooperation of the Hudson estate.

"ABC decides to do a version dealing with two figures who occupied, I figured out, four years of Rock's life, both with enormous axes to grind," she said.

Margulies said that the script was first turned into the network in August and "it was the considered opinion of Ken (Kaufman, president of Patchett-Kaufman Entertainment), Carmen and myself that the network notes (on proposed changes it wanted) were about as few in number that any of us had experienced."

The word filtered down shortly thereafter that ABC was well into its Rock Hudson movie and their project went "into limbo," Margulies said.

Kaufman said that Culver had written "a spectacular screenplay" but that NBC made "a rational kind of networky decision which says, 'OK, the picture went on, it's the same subject matter, it did a 24 share (considered "average"), we're going to put a lot of money into a miniseries, should we make essentially the same movie?' "

Margulies said that he'll meet with Kaufman to discuss the possibility of selling the script to another network or cable channel.

"There was great foreign interest in this project and maybe if that base is still there, we can find a way," he said. He maintained that "Rock Hudson was the No. 1 international film star for eight consecutive years and, truly, one skimpy two-hour movie did not mine the depths of that audience (for a Hudson story)."

Kaufman agreed. "I think the movie should still be made that illuminates his life the way it should be illuminated." I think someday it'll get made. I have a lot of confidence in that."

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