‘Door’ Telepicture Opens Window to Emmy Noms

Aug 18, 2003  •  Post A Comment

If TNT’s television movie “Door to Door” wins any of the dozen Emmys it’s nominated for, Barbara Walters and HBO could be thanked.
The idea for “Door to Door” came to a couple of Hollywood TV producers after they saw a “20/20” segment that Barbara Walters did on an Oregon man named Bill Porter. Though he suffered the degenerative effects of cerebral palsy and was told early in life he was unemployable, he became a door-to-door salesman, walking the same neighborhood for 40 years. Mr. Porter shot to the top-selling spot for The Watkins Co. while becoming a fixture in his customers’ lives and an inspiration to those around him.
His story was perfect fodder for a feel-good TV movie, and it was sold to HBO, with William H. Macy set to star and to co-write the script with his longtime collaborator, Steven Schachter. Dan Angel, Billy Brown and David Rosemont were in line to executive produce and Mr. Schachter to direct.
When the script came in, though, HBO passed. The network is, after all, better known for its gritty, sexually provocative programming than for sweet, heart-tugging stories.
“They’ve since said that if they had it to do over again, they would’ve turned it down again,” said Mr. Macy, who was nominated for his role in the movie and for co-writing the script. “It didn’t have a hard enough edge for them.”
TNT quickly snapped it up, sensing it would fit into the network’s tagline, “We know drama.”
“It was a personal story about the human spirit and overcoming the odds, and those are scarce,” said Steve Koonin, executive VP and chief operating officer of TNT and TBS Superstation. “I read the script on a plane from L.A. to Atlanta, and by the time I was over Texas, I had tears in my eyes.”
Made on a $5 million budget, “Door to Door”earned more Emmy nominations than any other television movie. In total nods, it came in not far behind lauded shows such as “Six Feet Under,” “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “The Sopranos.” No other basic cable program garnered as many nominations. Its co-stars Helen Mirren and Kathy Baker also were nominated, as was Mr. Schachter for directing.
`Gump-ized’ Story
In TNT, the filmmakers found the perfect home for a story they wanted to tell, said Ken Gross of Ken Gross Management, who represents Mr. Macy and Mr. Schachter.
“They got to make the movie they wrote,” Gross said. “They put the incredible human story of Bill Porter into the context of American life from the ’50s to the ’90s. They Gump-ized it.”
Mr. Macy and Mr. Schachter, who’ve been friends since college and have worked together on theater, film and television projects for more than 20 years, said they’ve always tended toward the personal story.
“We’re generally not your action, special effects, sci-fi kind of guys,” Mr. Schachter said.
They wanted to tell Bill Porter’s story, but not in a disease-of-the-week-style movie, because they felt that would have resulted in a one-dimensional view of a multifaceted person.
“Bill Porter has the best outlook on life. He loves to laugh,” Mr. Macy said. “His pride has gotten him where he is, but it’s also been his Achilles’ heel. So we made the through-line a man who learns to accept help.”
Mr. Macy and Mr. Schachter spent three months crafting the outline. They say it works best for them if they hash out nearly every detail, except the dialogue, during that time. When they finally write the first draft, the piece is often in a near-finished state. They had done the same on a previous TNT collaboration, a movie called “A Slight Case of Murder,” which earned Mr. Macy a best actor Emmy nomination.
Though TNT was supportive of the writers, Mr. Koonin said, there was some skepticism internally about the softness of “Door to Door” and the possibility that it would veer too far into sentimentality.
“But they injected humor and developed the characters so beautifully,” Mr. Koonin said. “It was not mawkish or melodramatic.”
For all it did have on the plus side, the movie had some marketing minuses. Set in the ’50s, “the world of brown,” as Mr. Koonin called it, with a disabled hero, there would be no sexy, wind-blown images for billboards and TV spots. It even went counter to the network’s established formula for TV movies-clear-concept-with-big-household-name-stars like Whoopi Goldberg.
To generate early buzz, the network seeded the movie at film festivals around the country. Cable operators organized dozens of screenings, and Mr. Macy went on a publicity tour.
After the movie was completed, network executives shopped it to a number of potential sponsors to heighten the promotion and hype. Johnson & Johnson signed on, making “Door to Door” the first of its Spotlight Presentations.
Mr. Macy and Mr. Schachter, meanwhile, have landed their next project at TNT. It’s a remake of a ’60s movie called “Gigot.” They’re trying their hand at feature film writing, while Mr. Macy, through his work on “Door to Door,” continues as a spokesman for the United Cerebral Palsy Association.
Bill Porter, who still does phone and Internet sales for The Watkins Co., was inundated with orders after the movie. Shortly after the movie’s premiere, his Web site crashed under the weight of 7,000 hits a second. He has bought some land and a house in Portland, Ore.