Gere-Roberts starrer doesn't fit today's mold

NBC has been on a buying binge lately so its executives decided to list the three central “pillars” that they utilize in assessing future shows.

Shows must be “fundamentally positive,” according to the network. Their plots must display “inherent ingenuity” (i.e. cool twists). And their cast of characters must be “human first” (canines need not apply).

The trouble with listing criteria like these, of course, is that they eliminate most of history’s great TV game-changers. Shows like “All in the Family,” for example.

The movie studios, too, are lining up their “pillars” in the hope of guaranteeing success. That basically means remaking the same movies over and over again.

At some studios, sequels and remakes now account for about 40% of their release schedules, according to my colleague, Dave McNary, who’s been keeping score.

Even when a big movie isn’t a sequel, it feels like one. “Robin Hood” “plays” like a rethinking of “Gladiator,” even though Ridley Scott and Brian Grazer may not have set out on that course.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of “Pretty Woman,” an iconic hit that broke all the rules. It was a love story about a hooker, so it should have been called “Working Woman.” Yet it grossed almost $500 million two decades ago, which means it could have approached a billion had it been released today.

The hooker in the original script had a serious heroin problem when she was picked up by a smug businessman. After their assignations, he gave her a mink coat and dumped her.

“It was, at best, a dark fairy tale,” recalls Jeffrey Katzenberg, who was calling the shots at Disney at the time. “Very dark.”

Arnon Milchan, then an independent producer, decided to option the screenplay for $2,500 and managed to attract interest from Michelle Pfeiffer and Sean Connery. However, Connery soon changed his mind when he re-read the script. Al Pacino liked the role and committed, then reversed himself claiming that the audience would never buy him as a business executive.

A succession of other actors were considered and tested. They included Diane Lane, Christopher Reeve and Christopher Lambert. Nothing was working out.

After Disney became involved and courted Garry Marshall to direct, the story began to brighten. The drug problem disappeared. The heroine was still a working girl, but working less hard. Julia Roberts, fresh from a winning turn in “Mystic Pizza,” was Marshall’s choice provided she would agree to a screen test.

The test persuaded the director and the studio that the movie belonged to her.

Finding a leading man proved a headache.

“We begged Richard Gere to do it,” recalls Katzenberg. “Gere never says yes. His world consists of maybe.”

Suddenly Marshall was shooting a movie amid a tangle of bad formulas — the hooker with a heart of gold, the man-rescues-girl story. He even inserted a happy ending.

Few thought it all would work. They were wrong. “Pretty Woman” occupies that weird sub-set of pop culture — it was a chick flick that guys wanted to see. Two decades later the DVD still sells and TV ratings soar when it’s on television.

Which brings us back to NBC’s yardsticks. The story was not “fundamentally positive.” It was in fact fundamentally sleazy. And the happy ending was a bad attempt at “inherent ingenuity.” The leading character was hooker first, not “human first.”

“Pillars,” it turns out, don’t seem to be reliable. I hate when that happens.

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