Aaron Sorkin broke the news Tuesday morning at Variety’s annual TV Summit, held at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, moderated by Variety’s Cynthia Littleton.
Sorkin joined NBC chief Bob Greenblatt, producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron and director Kenny Leon to talk about NBC’s success with live musicals and the expansion early next year into the live staging of Sorkin’s play, which became a blockbuster 1992 starring Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson.
Zadan and Meron are exec producing “Few Good Men.” The pair have also been behind NBC’s live musicals. Leon, who directed NBC’s “The Wiz Live” last December, is on board to direct this year’s holiday tuner, “Hairspray Live.”
“I couldn’t be more excited about that,” Sorkin said of Ellis directing “Few Good Men.”
Ellis is a multi-time Tony-nominated director, having worked on the stage productions “She Loves Me,” “Steel Pier,” “1776,” “Twelve Angry Men,” “Curtains,” “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” and “You Can’t Take It with You.” On the television side, Ellis was exec producer on Showtime’s “Weeds.” He has directed episodes of “Modern Family,” “Nurse Jackie,” “The Good Wife,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Frasier” and “30 Rock,” for which he was nominated for an Emmy.
“If something happens to Scott, let me know. I’m waiting in the wings!” Leon joked on the panel, pitching himself to direct the live play. Greenblatt chimed in: “You’re busy doing ‘Hairspray.'”
For the NBC live adaptation, Sorkin is re-writing “A Few Good Men,” which originally started as a Broadway play, before it was adapted into the 1992 film starring Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson and Demi Moore.
“I am very exited to write it up again. It was my first play, it was my starter play. I’m very proud of it, but it still feels a little bit like my high school yearbook picture to me. I think, or I at least hope, I’m a better writer now,” Sorkin said. “I’m looking forward to attacking it just for the sake of a re-write, as well as it should be written for this particular production.”
As for casting, the panel said that they’re getting into the process.
“We are reaching out to people. We’re beyond having just a list,” Sorkin revealed, adding that the creative team is getting many phone calls, now that the new wave of live TV productions has blown up. “Actors don’t get the opportunity to do that a lot,” he said of performing live on television.
The panelists praised Carrie Underwood for being the first actor to step into the new world of live TV with NBC’s “The Sound of Music” in 2013. Three years later, actors are jumping at the opportunity to flex their creative muscles on a live telecast.
“I’m going to give you the long list of scaredy-cats from ‘Sound of Music’ because there are some big people who said, ‘I can’t do that,'” Greenblatt said of the casting shortlist for”A Few Good Men.”
In addition to talent getting excited, the entire Hollywood community has welcomed the live programming wave.
“We got a call out of the blue from Tyler Perry,” Zadan said. “He called and he said, ‘I’m calling to help you because I’m going to mobilize a social media campaign for ‘The Wiz’ because this has to succeed.’ He called Oprah and he called everyone else that he knows and they started tweeting… the support that we got from the community was so overwhelming… because they know that failure means there won’t be anymore. We needed those ratings for this to continue because they’re so expensive.”
The new trend of TV musicals comes with a learning curve — and being the first live play on television in decades, “A Few Good Men” even more so.
“I have been for years wanting to see live theater come back to television,” Sorkin said. “I was thinking, ‘Boy I hope [NBC] expands into non-musicals next’ — not thinking for a second that my play would be the canary in the coal mine.”
The hope is that Sorkin’s revitalized play will launch a new wave of live plays on television, just like “The Sound of Music” inspired more NBC musicals, including “Peter Pan” and “The Wiz,” and Fox’s “Grease Live.” Up next at the broadcast networks is Fox’s “Rocky Horror Picture Show” and ABC’s pre-recorded telepic “Dirty Dancing.”
“There are no barriers between Broadway, movies and television anymore,” Greenblatt said. “It’s completely interwoven now.”
Up next for NBC is “Hairspray Live” in December. But, Greenblatt teased that it won’t take long for “A Few Good Men” to come. “We’re probably going to do it in February. We haven’t locked in the date,” he revealed.
While the revival will bring a new cast and a new script to Sorkin’s hit, he promised that the live production will stay true to form.
Quoting the film’s most famous line, Sorkin quipped: “It’s going to be ‘A Few Good Man.’ You can’t handle the truth! It’s going to be ‘A Few Good Men.'”
(Pictured: Cynthia Littleton, Bob Greenblatt, Kenny Leon, Neil Meron, Aaron Sorkin and Craig Zadan)