CBS will serve up a major helping of family values this November with a Thanksgiving-themed “The Waltons” reunion — one of three “go” movies on the Lee Rich Co.’s TV production slate.
Rich, which has an overall arrangement with Warner Bros., is also producing an ABC movie, “French Silk,” starring Susan Lucci, and a two-hour movie/pilot for Warner Bros.’ syndicated Prime Time Entertainment Network, “Island City,” to air in February.
“The Waltons Thanksgiving” was spurred by a call to Rich from CBS Entertainment prez Jeff Sagansky and is targeted for November, the 30th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. The story will involve the Waltons assemblingfor Thanksgiving in 1963, about three decades after the start of the post-Depression drama, and will touch on how they’re affected by JFK’s death.
All of the surviving series principals are expected to appear in the movie, while others, like the late Will Geer, will be seen in flashback.
The show, which aired on CBS from 1972-81 and starred Ralph Waite, Michael Learned and Richard Thomas, has played consistently in syndication and even became part of last year’s political campaign, when then-President Bush said families should be more like “The Waltons” and less like “The Simpsons.”
ABC and NBC each have longform productions planned for November that directly seek to capitalize on the JFK anniversary, with, respectively, “JFK: Reckless Youth” and Joe McGinniss’ controversial “The Last Brother: The Rise and Fall of Teddy Kennedy.”
Bruce Sallan, who joined Rich as president of TV in January 1992, noted that “The Waltons” reunion marks a sort of full-circle turn for the company, which is also producing (in association with Magnum Prods. and Warner Bros.) a new NBC series, “Against the Grain,” that it hopes will pick up on that legacy of family-oriented drama.
While the producers cite the simple values in “Against the Grain,” set around high school football in a small Texas town, Rich stressed that the company’s TV side continues to seek a mixed programming palate. “We’re not the ‘holier than thou’ production company,” he said.
“French Silk,” for example, is a murder mystery starring Lucci, while “Island City” is an Earth-based sci-fi entry that will air on PTEN in advance of a possible series the following year.
Some critics and pundits, pointing to its Friday slot, have called “Against the Grain” this year’s sacrifice on the altar of quality drama, but Rich disagrees. “There’s no such thing as a bad time period,” he said.
Still, the former Lorimar and MGM topper preached greater patience on the part of the webs, saying if the business were conducted two decades ago as it is today, “‘The Waltons’ would have been off the air after four episodes.”