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Strange Bidding

Half of the Fun Is in the 'Chase'

February 09, 1997|Brian Lowry | Brian Lowry is a Times staff writer

Louisa May Alcott's rediscovered manuscript "The Long Fatal Love Chase" is again searching for a home, with no certainty how the chase will end.

After an intense bidding war among various production companies two years ago, Citadel Entertainment--an outfit affiliated with pay channel HBO--emerged with the property, agreeing to pay a reported $350,000 for film and television rights.

Many assumed the story would be turned into a feature after Columbia Pictures' box-office success in 1994 with the latest film version of Alcott's "Little Women," starring Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon; instead, Citadel sold the project to NBC, which began developing it as a 4-hour miniseries for this season.

A few months ago, however, NBC quietly walked away from "Love Chase," and Citadel, which has produced such HBO movies as the recent Golden Globe winner "Rasputin" and "Citizen X," re-optioned the story and is now developing it as a two-hour feature film.

Economics played some part in Citadel's decision to take the project to television, but the producers say they ultimately determined that a four-hour format offered them a better opportunity to more fully adapt the source material.

The story, set in England, involves Rosamond, 18, who weds the dashing Phillip Tempest, 35, only to discover after their marriage that Phillip is married to another woman. Rosamond flees across Europe with Phillip in pursuit, seeking to thwart her efforts to find new romance.

NBC's press materials billed "Love Chase" as a "19th century tale with surprisingly contemporary themes." The novel surfaced in 1994, having been found in a rare-book store.

Citadel chief executive David Ginsburg maintains that the producers had a terrific script, but NBC decided the project wouldn't appeal to viewers the network normally attracts with its movies. NBC has for the most part shied away from period pieces, instead doing contemporary "women in peril" thrillers, including such titles this season as "Her Costly Affair," "Her Hidden Truth" and the much-lampooned Tori Spelling vehicle "Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?"

"It's one of those examples of a project where we did everything right . . . and their objectives changed," says Ginsburg, who adds that NBC "sees [its] market as being different than this property."

NBC declined to comment but has released the story back to Citadel. Meanwhile, Cindy Meyers--whose credits include the miniseries "A Woman of Independent Means"--is reworking her television script as a feature.

Numerous studios and independent producers, including 20th Century Fox and Fine Line Pictures, pursued the story initially, and Citadel is hoping that appetite hasn't diminished. Alcott would be only the latest female novelist to experience such a posthumous revival, based on recent adaptations of Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility" and "Emma," as well as a new version of Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre" released last year.

Although the fate of "Love Chase" remains unclear, Alcott fans have another "lost" work to tide them over: "Inheritance," a handwritten manuscript unearthed last year, has become a TV movie starring Meredith Baxter that CBS plans to air in April. In a small touch of irony, Baxter also co-starred in a "Little Women" miniseries televised in 1978--on NBC.

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