'Dove' prequel rides long trail to ratings love

Winning an Oscar for “Brokeback Mountain” might be gratifying, but it hasn’t necessarily made anything easier for screenwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana.

” ‘Brokeback’ changed the dialogue, but they move on so quick your head will spin. You have to confront a new studio or network situation with each project,” says McMurtry, who has seen half a dozen of his novels turned into movies.

“Comanche Moon” marks the fourth and final installment in the Pulitzer Prize winner’s “Lonesome Dove” saga — one of several tetralogies McMurtry has written (his “Terms of Endearment” and “Last Picture Show” also clock in at four books apiece). “I have a natural urge to know what my characters’ lives are like at different stages,” he explains.

Though completed last, “Moon” comes second in the sequence, as Gus McCrae (Steve Zahn) and Woodrow Call (Karl Urban) are acting Texas Rangers. “We wanted to show them in the period where the Texas Rangers were in the endgame with the Comanches,” says McMurtry, who gives the Natives equal time.

The pic was a smash for the Eye, with part one of three garnering 15.75 million viewers. But the webs weren’t always so eager to see the mini to its conclusion. CBS produced “Lonesome Dove” sequel “The Streets of Laredo” shortly after its publication but passed on McMurtry’s two prequels.

“Dead Man’s Walk” went to ABC (where Ossana remembers, “We had 14 pages of single-spaced notes wanting us to document and prove the atrocities depicted in that miniseries had actually happened”).

“Comanche Moon” languished for eight years, until management finally greenlit the project.

McMurtry credits “Lonesome Dove” screenwriter Bill Whittliff for justifying the format in the first place: “As Whittliff said, ‘The only thing harder than getting a Western made was getting a miniseries made.’ ”

“Just because a movie doesn’t do well at the box office doesn’t mean that the whole genre has sailed,” insists Ossana, who adapted and exec produced the subsequent chapters with McMurtry. “Thematically, the Western really has never gone away.”

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