On the same day that he announced he was re-upping with Showtime for four more years, the Viacom-owned pay net’s programming prexy, Jerry Offsay, unveiled a new slate of original films in various stages of production and development that feature such veteran performers as Hume Cronyn, Ben Kingsley, Jack Lemmon, James Earl Jones and Karl Malden.
Offsay, who joined Showtime three years ago and has led the network on an original programming rampage over the past 18 months (with Showtime running a new original film each week in 1996), admitted that the pace of working at a job that has required him to make 30 business trips in 1996 is proving exhausting.
“There is only so long that a person can keep this up, but so far I’m managing,” Offsay said on Tuesday. “I’m hoping to retire at Showtime, but not yet.”
Showtime’s program guru preferred to discuss upcoming projects, a list of movies that includes remakes of the 1957 classic “Twelve Angry Men” (this one directed by William Friedkin) and the Oscar-winning 1960 feature “Elmer Gantry,” as well as adaptations of the Broadway musical “Sweeney Todd” and a docudrama about Elvis Presley’s meeting at the White House with then-President Richard Nixon.
Four of the films are produced in association with Hallmark Entertainment and include:
* “Alone,” a story written by two-time Oscar-winner Horton Foote about a widower who is forced to confront the greed and false hopes of his children when oil is thought to exist on the family farm. Cronyn, Jones, Frederic Forrest, Shelley Duvall, Rex Linn, Chris Cooper, Ed Begley Jr. and Hallie Foote star, with Michael Lindsay-Hogg directing. It’s presently in production.
* “Elvis Meets Nixon,” which recently wrapped principal photography in telling the story of Elvis Presley’s bizarre meeting with President Nixon to cap a strange weekend in the life of the King. Rick Peters stars as Elvis, with Bob Gunton cast as Nixon. It’s timed to air next August around the 20th anniversary of Presley’s death. Allan Arkush directs from a script by Alan Rosen. Offsay said the film will feature a narrator (possibly Dick Cavett) and include a “Reds”-style cast of witnesses.
* “Sweeney Todd,” slated to begin production in January and starring Ben Kingsley as Todd, and Joanna Lumley as Mrs. Lovett, the murderous British couple with a thing for killing people and making them into pies. Peter Buckman penned the script, with Peter Shaw and Gary Dartnell producing and John Schlesinger directing. An American lead is yet to be cast, Offsay said.
* “Blind Faith,” no relation to the 1990 TV movie of the same name. In pre-production, it’s set in the 1950s and details the relationship between African-American brothers, one a police captain and the other an attorney, whose lives are torn apart when the captain’s son is wrongly accused of the murder of a white man. The son also happens to be gay. Ernest Dickerson directs from a script by Frank Miltary. Offsay said he hopes to complete casting on the film this week.
Also in pre-production is “Twelve Angry Men,” a new version of the film starring Cronyn, Lemmon, Malden, Ossie Davis, Edward James Olmos, Tony Danza, Mykelti Williamson and Jim Gandofini in the story of one man struggling to convince 11 fellow jurors of the innocence of the accused murderer on trial. The MGM co-production is directed by Friedkin from a Reginald Rose script. Offsay said four more actors will be cast as jurors, with an actress to play the judge.
The other films include:
* “Evidence of Blood,” currently in pre-production and starring David Strathairn and Mary McDonnell in the story of a crime writer returning to his small Georgia hometown for a funeral, and getting involved in unraveling a murder mystery from the 1950s. Based on the novel by Thomas Cook, the film is directed by Andy Mondshein from a Dalene Young script.
* “Elmer Gantry,” a remake of the Burt Lancaster-Shirley Jones pic based on the Sinclair Lewis novel that is in development and as yet uncast. Produced by MGM for Showtime from a Peter and Nancy Silverman script. John Pike is executive producer.
Offsay said that Showtime’s prodigious output of original product will continue into 1997, with roughly 120 film scripts in development and more than one new film planned each week for Showtime and its sister Movie Channel combined.
Despite the name casts, Offsay said that none of the films will exceed Showtime’s typical budget of $2 million to $3 million per picture.