Prequel to ‘Dove’ Takes Flight at CBS

Jul 25, 2005  •  Post A Comment

CBS is negotiating to mount a long-in-development miniseries prequel to the 1989 CBS mini “Lonesome Dove” as part of the network’s modified strategy for its Sunday night movie block.

In response to competition from ABC’s Sunday powerhouse “Desperate Housewives,” CBS is tweaking its strategy of running traditional women-in-jeopardy, female-driven made-for-TV movies. Instead, CBS is turning to younger-skewing action-oriented and event programming. CBS plans to bill the project, based on Larry McMurtry’s 1997 novel “Comanche Moon,” as a big event sometime during the 2005-06 season, sources said.

CBS declined to comment on “Moon.”

“Moon” would be the fifth televised adaptation from Mr. McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove” series, which profiles the gritty and often tragic lives of two former Texas Rangers turned cattlemen. The first installment was the eight-hour “Dove,” based on the 1985 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name. It starred Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones and won seven Emmys, two Golden Globes, a WGA award and a Peabody Award as well as stellar ratings and critical acclaim.

Three more “Dove” miniseries followed, as did the Rysher Entertainment syndicated drama series “Lonesome Dove: The Series,” which lasted two seasons, from 1994 to 1996, and produced 44 one-hour episodes. (After the first season, the series was tweaked and the name changed to “Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years.”) At CBS’s executive session during last week’s Television Critics Association summer press tour, Nina Tassler, president of CBS Entertainment, talked about how the network is changing its programming tactics on Sundays.

“Outside of opening the season with [the miniseries ‘Martha Behind Bars,’], the initial slate will be heavy with action-adventure and suspense thrillers,” she said. “We see these movies as a good alternative to the ‘Desperate Housewives’ audience on ABC and very compatible for promotion in our Sunday NFL broadcasts.”

The airline disaster movie “Mayday” is scheduled to air Oct. 2, while “The Hunt for the BTK Strangler” is set for Oct. 9. The terrorist-plot-in-a-football-stadium thriller “Time Bomb” is scheduled for Oct. 16, with the Halloween-themed “Vampire Bats” running Oct. 30 and the four-hour “Category 7: The End of the World” airing in two parts Nov. 6 and 13. “Martha Behind Bars,” which profiles the trial and conviction of lifestyle mogul Martha Stewart, premieres Sept. 25.

At the press tour Ms. Tassler said that with the network aging down and the strong ratings performance in the 2004-05 season of TV movies such as “Category 6: Day of Destruction” in November, “Spring Break Shark Attack” in March and “Locusts” in April, it made sense to further shake up CBS’s miniseries slate for the upcoming season and bring younger viewers to the network.

“We really took advantage of the opportunity to do different genre films,” she said, noting that CBS had to come up with a “balanced schedule” when it comes to its TV movies. “It’s about being able to offer suspense thrillers, high-octane action-adventures. The popcorn movies turned out to be a lot of fun for us.”

Ms. Tassler called CBS’s planned two-part miniseries on the life of Pope John Paul II a “papal page-turner,” which caused one critic to question how sensitively CBS would handle the story of the late pontiff.

“It really tracks in a very personal and emotional way how he got his calling,” Ms. Tassler said of the pope. “It’s a very compelling and relevant story. And I call it a papal page-turner because the backdrop in which this story takes place is very dangerous and suspenseful.”