Bravo’s “The Fifth Beatle” will examine what it was like to be gay and Jewish in 1960s England through the prism of the life story of legendary Beatles manager Brian Epstein, who died in 1967 at age 32.
Production on the Sonar Entertainment series, based on the graphic novel by Vivek J. Tivary, is still months off and details as to where it will shoot are scant, but Jenna Santoianni, Sonar’s executive VP of television series and a “Fifth Beatle” executive producer, offered a glimpse at plans for the limited series. Sonar developed the property and set it up at Bravo last month.
“I think Vivek has done an amazing job in adapting his graphic novel to the television script,” Santoianni tells Variety. “And from the script, people are going to get the true life story of Brian Epstein and really feel that he was brilliant yet was a bit of a tortured dreamer and get the early look at Brian Epstein’s discovering the band in the Cavern Club in Liverpool and get a sense of how he both nurtured and protected them, and really guided their careers to worldwide success. We’re going to explore that he was a gay Jewish man in 1960s England, which wasn’t a popular thing to be at that time considering that homosexuality was a felony and that he’s an outsider who really struggled to overcome a lot of odds. And at the same time we’re seeing Brian Epstein overcome his own personal struggles, we’re seeing the Fab Four rise to fame really because of the potential he saw in them.”
The project is also notable for having secured rights to the music of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Santoianni said she couldn’t reveal which songs would be used yet, though “they’re very related to the story and the music is going to be a very organic part of the storytelling. I think what Vivek said in securing those music rights is very special and those were not easy to get.”
Santoianni said television was a good fit for “Fifth Beatle” because it allows for a longer storytelling format. The interest in Epstein’s story is a sign of how much the market for television content has expanded.
“There are a lot of subject areas and formats that used to be considered not suitable for television or that you couldn’t make,” she said. “And part of that was that the budgets weren’t there. And the wealth of channels and programmers that we have today weren’t there. Programmers would say, ‘You couldn’t do period pieces. You couldn’t do things that had a ton of music involved or production numbers. Audiences wanted to see stories about America.”
But things have changed. “The beauty of television is that we don’t have to resolve our characters’ issues or stories in a two-hour movie,” she said. “We get to embrace our characters for their flaws and for their personalities and spend a lot of time with them. And we don’t have to say goodbye to them after two hours.”
The Epstein biopic series was a natural attraction for a longtime Beatles fan who says she was instilled with love of their music by her parents. “The Beatles mean a lot to me,” Santoianni said. “I grew up in Los Angeles listening on the weekends to (radio program) “Breakfast With the Beatles.”
She looks at the entire project as a real accomplishment. “To be able to help (Vivek) take the graphic novel and sell it as a television show is really special and meaningful,” Santoianni said. “It’s a great honor to be able to work with someone on adapting their own work. And it’s been a really great and charmed experience. This is one of the most beautiful graphic novels I’ve even seen.”