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NBC jams with ‘Motown’

Peacock gets down with limited series

Heard through the grapevine: Peacock is partnering with de Passe Entertainment for a 12-hour megamini about the history of the famed music factory, Motown, as seen through the eyes of founder Berry Gordy.

Suzanne de Passe will exec produce the ambitious project, designed to be what NBC calls a “limited series” along the lines of HBO’s “Band of Brothers.” Project, based on Gordy’s autobiography “To Be Loved: The Music, The Magic, The Memories of Motown,” will feature a soundtrack of Motown hits from artists such as the Jackson 5, the Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Diane Ross and Marvin Gaye.

“The story of Berry Gordy’s Motown is the soundtrack of America,” said NBC prexy of cable entertainment and cross-platform strategy Jeff Gaspin, who said he’s been “working with Suzanne to make this happen for over two years.”

“I can’t think of a better way to bring excitement back to the miniseries genre,” said Gaspin, who scored a success during the just-concluded season with “10.5,” the blockbuster earthquake mini. “Look at ‘American Idol’ — the best episodes are the Motown episodes. These performers still resonate with viewers,” he told Daily Variety.

According to de Passe, the Berry project reps “the culmination of so many years of my life working with all the Motown-related subjects.”

“What started in a tiny house in Detroit had cultural, social and political impact throughout the world,” de Passe said. “(It’s) the quintessential American success story.”

Search has just started for a scribe — or possibly scribes — to pen a bible and episodes. If greenlit, the project isn’t expected to air until the 2005-06 season.

While nothing’s set in stone yet, one idea for a framing device for the mini is to recreate the famous Motown 25 TV special, in which a slew of the label’s heavyweights reunited for a series of performances (including Jackson’s moonwalk).

However the story is told, de Passe expects the project to begin with a depiction of the events “that led Mr. Berry to become the man who started Motown” and end with his decision to sell the company in 1988.

De Passe began working with Berry in 1968, starting out as his creative assistant. She helped birth the Motown-produced 1972 Billie Holiday biopic “Lady Sings the Blues,” snagging an Oscar nom for co-writing the Diana Ross starrer.

While de Passe is close to many of the expected subjects of WMA-packaged “Berry Gordy’s Motown,” she said the mini won’t be a sugarcoated version of events.

“It’s going to be challenging to find the right balance between objectivity and subjectivity,” she said. “(But) it’s important that we be as honest and straightforward as possible in presenting the facts as we know them.”

“Nothing I’ve experienced in my long association with many of these personalities was all good or all bad all of the time,” she added. “It was life: Some things worked, some things didn’t. But coming through is a story of vision and accomplishment and despair and all of the things that go with” building a company like Motown.

Development of the project will be supervised by Suzanne Coston, prexy of de Passe Entertainment, and NBC longform VP Stephen Bulka.

In addition to “Motown 25,” Emmy and Peabody winner de Passe teamed up with NBC for “Motown Returns to the Apollo” and the mini “The Temptations.” Her credits also include “The Jacksons: An American Dream,” “Lonesome Dove” and “Buffalo Girls.”

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