GOOD MORNING: The O.J. Simpson criminal trial will get new conversation and connotation when “12 Angry Men” gets its Showtime airing later this year. The question of “reasonable doubt” was/is the theme of Reginald Rose’s story, as it was in the Simpson case. Billy Friedkin, directing the MGM Worldwide TV/Showtime 1997 version of Rose’s story, admits even though he is positive of Simpson’s guilt, the “reasonable doubt” requirement would have caused him to vote for Simpson’s acquittal — but not in the civil trial, he emphasizes, which brought out evidence that removed all “reasonable doubt.” I caught up with Friedkin and his magnificent 12 men on Stage One at Raleigh Studios, Wednesday. Outside on Bronson Ave. 13 identical trailers (“Tough to find,” said producer Terry Donnelly) were parked for the cast — and one for Friedkin. Everyone — including Friedkin — is working for scale on a favored nations contract, a labor of love. He is shooting the two-hour cabler in 11 days, having rehearsed two weeks. I brought to the set a copy of Daily Variety’s review of the original UA feature (from Rose’s earlier teleplay). The date of the review: Feb. 27, 1957 — exactly 40 years ago. They were amazed at the coincidence. Further, the review pointed out that Rose “had stressed the importance of taking into account the question off ‘reasonable doubt.’ In the Sidney Lumet-directed movie (1957), it was Henry Fonda who held out for a “reasonable doubt” innocence verdict. In the Friedkin pic, it is Jack Lemmon who leads the reasoning. While Rose’s script is altered only for modern references (like the Tyson-Holyfield fight instead of Dempsey-Firpo) and for four black jurors instead of the original all white jury. Friedkin did cast a femme, however, Mary McDonnell, as the judge. “We couldn’t have had women jurors,” reasoned Friedkin. “Could we call it ‘Eight Angry Men and Four Angry Women’?” And in the current “Men,” black thesp Courtney B. Vance is the jury foreman, originally played by Martin Balsam. Also, Mykelti Williamson, as a member of the Nation of Islam, is also revealed as a bigot. His juror role was originally played by Ed Begley. Also adding a different note to the cast is Dorian Harewood (the role was played by Jack Klugman), back from tour in “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and readying an album. Rounding out the jurors: Ossie Davis, Edward James Olmos, Oscar nominee Armin Mueller-Stahl, Hume Cronyn, George C. Scott, James Gandolfini, William Peterson and Tony Danza, fresh from a Rainbow and Stars stint and readying an Aussie tour of his act plus NBC pilot. Danza’s not intimidated by this veteran group –” They raise you up,” he said They are an impressive group as they sit in the nondescript room and spew out the lengthy dialog sans errors — each takes over two minutes. Karl Malden was to have been one of the cast but, after a couple of days’ rehearsals, he felt “uneasy” about how medication (for prostate treatment) was affecting him. The quintessential pro, Malden bowed out. “Nothing like this ever happened to me before,” But he plans to be back at work shortly. He sounded great and he’s completed his book (Simon & Schuster) “When Do I Start?”FRIEDKIN WANTED TO DO THE SHOW LIVE — and they could have done it, they are so perfect. He even thought of doing it in black and white. He’ll bring in the movie for Showtime’s standard price — “around 3-4 million.” He edits as he goes — every editing note is on his script pages. He bounds between setside monitors of his two hand-held cameras and the sparse set, keeping the pace constantly going. “Right away,” he shouts after each take is completed. The breaks are brief — no extraneous takes — everyone knows exactly what he is doing. Everyone on the sidelines is awed. John Frankenheimer, Friedkin’s idol, even stopped by to watch. Hume Cronyn’s wife, writer Susan Cooper C. admitted “I should be in the trailer working on my script (for Showtime), ‘Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant’ — but this is too exciting.” She had written Cronyn’s last TV’er for Showtime, “Alone” and the last for Jessica Tandy with Hume, “To Dance With the White Dog. … Jack Lemmon told me plans are off for him and Walter Matthau to reteam in “Grumpy Old Men III” — until the budget can be trimmed for the Italy-set sequel. Jack, meanwhile, is planning another pic, “Against the Wind” for Hallmark with Glenn Jordan directing, Larry Turman producing — as they trio’d previously with Lemmon on “Mass Appeal”. … Friedkin’s completed the script of “Jack the Ripper,” which Steve Tisch will produce in England — all roles except one are British. Added coincidence — in my column of Feb. 27, 1957, I wrote, “Tony Curtis caught part one of Studio One’s ‘The Defenders,” sent for next week’s script and now wants to film it for his indie.” Fade out and fade into Feb. 27, 1997 — ‘”The Defenders” was also Reginald Rose’s — and he’s readying a new “Defenders” series based on those legalistics! In the original, Ralph Bellamy and William Shatner were father and son attorneys and Steve McQueen was the defendant accused of murder. … And for the latest Oscar news: Barbra Streisand has decided not to sing her nominated tune, “I Finally Found Someone” from “The Mirror Has Two Faces.” She wrote it with Marvin Hamlisch, Bryan Adams and Robert “Mutt” Lange.
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more