NBC has given producer Stan Brooks the green light to produce a two-hour “Behind the Camera” telepic about hit Peacock laffer “Diff’rent Strokes.”
Bobb’e J, most recently seen on “The Tracy Morgan Show,” has been cast to play the young Gary Coleman in the project. Both Coleman and co-star Todd Bridges have also signed on as consultants to the project and will appear in on-camera interviews during the pic, which will blend scripted and unscripted elements.
In addition, Verda Bridges — sister of Todd Bridges — will play the siblings’ mother. Robert Bailey Jr. has been cast to play the older Coleman in the pic, which is being produced via Brooks’ Once Upon a Time Prods.
There’s no casting yet for the role of “Strokes” star Dana Plato, who died of a drug overdose in 1999.
Production starts next week in Vancouver, with Robert Iscove helming. Greg Pincus and Susan Rinehart wrote the script, and Brooks will exec produce with Scott W. Anderson; Damian Ganczewski is a producer.
Unauthorized telepic, in development since last year (Daily Variety, March 26) will depart from the usual “Behind the Camera” format by not just focusing on the time during which the show aired (1978-86), but also examining what happened to the cast long after the cameras stopped rolling.
Brooks, who produced the “Three’s Company” and upcoming “Mork and Mindy” editions of the “Behind the Camera” franchise, said “Strokes” promises to be the most dramatic pic of the series “by far.”
Other pics, he said, deal with careers falling apart. “With this one, what’s at stake was people’s lives,” Brooks said.
“The thesis of this movie is, Where were the parents in all this? The studios, the networks, the managers — all the people benefiting from the success of this show never looked at the effect it was having (on the young cast). They stole their childhood.”
Pic reps the first time a “Behind the Camera” title has focused on an NBC skein. Brooks is currently casting for a thesp to play late Peacock topper Brandon Tartikoff, and he said he’s hoping Mr. T will agree to re-create his famed cameo on “Strokes.”
While Coleman and Bridges are consultants on the pic, they didn’t have approval on the script and, in fact, didn’t see the script until after the pic was greenlit, Brooks said.
“We didn’t have to do much to make (Coleman) sympathetic,” Brooks said. “You can’t spend five minutes with the guy without feeling some sympathy for his plight.”
This is not the first “Strokes” telepic. A few years ago, Fox produced “After ‘Diff’rent Strokes’: When the Laughter Stopped.”
NBC is expected to air the “Mork and Mindy” edition of “Behind the Camera” in early April.