AMC, Duvall saddle oater

Net gambles $15 mil on horse opera

AMC has engineered the priciest original programming deal in its history, spending $15 million for a four-hour miniseries exec produced by and starring Robert Duvall.

Duvall and longtime friend Alan Geoffrion developed “Daughters of Joy,” an epic adventure set in the Old West.

Story, based on historical documents and research, centers on a rancher, played by Duvall, who crosses paths with five enslaved Chinese women being sent to mining camps to work as prostitutes.

The rancher and his nephew take pity on the women and take them along as they transport more than 500 horses from Oregon to Wyoming.

Walter Hill, who won an Emmy for directing the pilot episode of “Deadwood,” will helm the project, penned by Geoffrion. Stanley M. Brooks (“Living With the Dead”) and Duvall’s producing partner, Rob Carliner (“The Apostle”), are exec producing.

Duvall told Daily Variety that the project reps the completion of “a personal trilogy for me: ‘Lonesome Dove,’ ‘Open Range’ and now ‘Daughters of Joy.’

“It’s the consummation of many things: My uncle was a rancher in northern Montana, and I have a lot of friends in Texas. This is something very near to my heart. The story is actually partially based on something that happened to the father of a friend of mine.”

Brooks, a longtime producer of TV Westerns including most recently NBC’s “The Legends of Butch and Sundance,” said “Daughters” would be more character-driven than traditional oaters.

“It feels a little like ‘Lonesome Dove.’ This miniseries really is about these characters, who by some twist of fate end up in each other’s lives and go on this journey together in the Old West.”

He added that the element of the horse drive is something unique to the project: “You see a lot of cattle drives in famous Westerns, but I can’t recall a good horse one.”

Production begins in Calgary this August for a premiere next summer.

Project is AMC’s first scripted endeavor and further defines an increasing commitment to original programming. Cabler’s originals slate includes “Celebrity Charades,” “Movies That Shook the World,” “Sunday Morning Shootout” and “Movie Club With John Ridley.”

Christina Wayne and Vlad Wolynetz are overseeing “Daughters” for AMC. “Daughters” is a co-production of Duvall and Carliner’s Butcher’s Run Films and Brooks’ Once Upon a Time Films.

Duvall last appeared in “Kicking and Screaming” and “Secondhand Lions.” He’ll next star in the features “Lucky You” and “Thank You for Smoking.”

Brooks’ latest installment in NBC’s “Behind the Camera” franchise, this one about “Diff’rent Strokes,” will bow this fall. He most recently produced the Lifetime movie “Fighting the Odds,” starring Jami Gertz.

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