By Betty Goodwin
Special to TelevisionWeek
Gregory Nava, co-writer, creator, executive producer and one of the directors of “American Family-Journey of Dreams,” rather likes that his entry is the only miniseries in the Golden Globes category of best miniseries or motion picture made for television.
The 13-part PBS epic focuses on a Latino family, exploring its history from the time of the Mexican revolution to current-day East Los Angeles. The story culminates when Conrado (Yancey Arias), the golden child and a doctor, serves in the Iraq war.
The show, which also stars Edward James Olmos, Esai Morales, Sonia Braga and Raquel Welch, originated as a 22-episode series, “American Family,” in 2001. “We did something very daring and courageous, and PBS showed a lot of moxie to support us,” Mr. Nava said, citing the project as the first and only American dramatic television series with an all-Latino cast. “It’s big. It’s sweeping. Roger Ebert reviewed it, and he never reviews TV.”
Mr. Nava has taken the accolades to heart. “I’m mainly known as a movie maker [“El Norte,” “My Family/Mi Familia,” “Selena”], but now I’m both [a filmmaker and a television series creator]. It’s all storytelling, and I’m a storyteller. Television is better in some ways because it’s so immediate. They buy off on the concept, and you’re off and running.”
Nonetheless, assessing this Globes race, a betting man might put his money on HBO, which dominates the category in more ways than one. This year the pay cable giant has three nominees: “Iron Jawed Angels,” “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers” and “Something the Lord Made.” The fifth nominee in the category is “The Lion in Winter” (Showtime). Not bad, considering HBO made only five original movies last year. Then there’s the inescapable fact that HBO has won the category the past three years.
“We’ve been lucky with awards the last couple of years,” said Keri Putnam, executive VP of HBO Films. “We’re very proud of the films we’ve been making,” even though, she added, “only one of our children can win that night.”
The three movies have several things in common, Ms. Putnam said: “They share great talent in front of and behind the camera. We’ve got great writing and fascinating stories. This year they happen to be all true stories, though that isn’t a strategy. And they’re not something you see every day at the multiplex.”
But the stories are as different as can be. “Iron Jawed Angels,” starring Hilary Swank, Frances O’Connor and Anjelica Huston, is about the determined suffragists who fought for women’s right to vote. “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers” is a biopic about the brilliant but troubled British movie star, with Geoffrey Rush in the title role and Charlize Theron as his Swedish wife Britt Ekland. “Something the Lord Made,” set in the Jim Crow South, tells the story of Dr. Alfred Blalock, a pioneering white pediatric heart surgeon, and Vivien Thomas, the black carpenter he recruited to be his lab technician.
Robert Cort, executive producer of “Something the Lord Made,” tried to get the movie made for many years as a feature film, Ms. Putnam said. “We were really pleased to do that story in a way that’s both character-driven and topical,” she said.
“Iron Jawed Angels,” she said, was a “labor of love for everyone involved to find a way to make those characters come alive for a contemporary audience.”
Now that he has left the music business behind, “Peter Sellers” co-executive producer Freddy DeMann-former owner of Maverick Records and a manager best known for his teamings with Madonna and others-said working in television, movies and theater (where his productions have won Tony Awards as well as a Pulitzer Prize) is a dream come true.
“I’m the most excited guy on the planet,” he said. “I’ve had many accolades, but somehow when I got the news on this one it put me in a different atmosphere. This was an ambitious project and a very challenging one.”
Although it was an easy sale to HBO, Mr. DeMann said, other challenges were in store, including hearing “no” from Mr. Rush when the part was first offered. Eventually, Mr. DeMann said, director Stephen Hopkins, who knows the actor, “talked him through it.”
Patrick Stewart, who shepherded Showtime’s “The Lion in Winter” to fruition as co-executive producer and co-star with Glenn Close, said he was never daunted by the original, much-celebrated feature film starring movie giants Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn. “I think most actors agree, outstanding scripts require that they are re-explored by another generation of actors.”
Never mind that Mr. O’Toole was his idol. “I couldn’t rewatch it because I knew his impact on me was too great,” Mr. Stewart said. Even after 35 years, “I could hear his voice behind some of the dialogue.”