CBS mini bows down to the King

Project to use master recordings of Presley's biggest hits

CBS can’t help falling in love with Elvis.

Eye is developing a four-hour movie about the king of rock ‘n’ roll, and has the blessing of the Elvis Presley estate for the project. As a result, the movie — tentatively dubbed “Elvis” — will be the first TV project to use master recordings of some of Presley’s biggest hits, CBS said.

Jaffe/Braunstein Films is producing, with Robert Greenblatt and David Janollari (“Six Feet Under”) on board as exec producers along with Howard Braunstein and Michael Jaffe (“10.5”). Patrick Sheane Duncan (“Courage Under Fire,” “Mr. Holland’s Opus”) is attached to write the pic, which is targeted for next season.

Braunstein said getting the Presley estate on board was key to the decision to pursue “Elvis.”

“We thought that if you’re going to do this right, you just can’t do it without their co-operation,” Braunstein said. “They’re going to open their archives for us, and that means we really get first-hand information about his life rather than just some biography.”

Idea for the project was first hatched more than 18 months ago, with the producers working to secure the OK from Presley’s estate.

“I just thought this story had never been told in a complete and classy way,” said Greenblatt, who first approached Elvis Presley Enterprises with the idea. “The closest thing was the Kurt Russell project (in 1979), and that was only two hours.”

Real thing

Previous telepics about Presley have used sound-alikes to record Presley’s songs, Braunstein said. Individual Elvis songs have been licensed for feature soundtracks. Using the original master recordings will give the CBS project an authenticity other projects lacked, the producer said.

“When our Elvis actor opens his mouth, it’ll be Elvis’ voice that comes out,” Greenblatt said.

Despite the cooperation of the Presley estate, “Elvis” won’t offer a whitewashed version of history.

“We told the estate from the beginning that we want to do warts and all,” Braunstein said. “The estate understands that you need to tell the true version of his story. And hopefully, with access to the archives, we can learn all sorts of new and provocative things.”

Added Greenblatt: “The estate is not afraid of doing the darker side (of Presley). It just wants it done with class and integrity, like Craig (Zadan) and Neil (Meron) did with their Judy Garland movie.”

“Elvis” won’t be a birth-to-death biopic of the king, but Braunstein’s not sure yet which parts of Presley’s life will be included in the movie.

Elvis expert

Greenblatt said snagging Duncan to write the project is also a coup. “We had no idea when we first talked to him, but he is a complete Elvis nut — and I say that in the most positive way,” he said. “He’s the perfect expert and a great writer, rolled into one.”

Numerous telepics and features have been made about Presley, but Braunstein thinks the public’s appetite for all things King remains strong. “The CD collections released a couple years ago went to the top of the charts,” he said. “This man still has an enormous fan base.”

Braunstein/Jaffe’s “Brooke Ellison” was greenlit to production at A&E two weeks ago with Christopher Reeve on board to helm the tale of a quadriplegic youth who graduates with honors from Harvard.

Over at TNT, the original movie “Evel Knievel” will premiere in July.

Greenblatt and Janollari are awaiting word on a pickup of their “One on One” spinoff, “Splitting Hairs,” which is said to be a strong contender for UPN’s fall sked. Greenblatt is now prexy of Showtime.