Join Date: May 23, 2005
I had to go through a registration hassle to access that article, so have copied/pasted the key section, which follows:
''It's all edited and ready to go,'' says American Dreams creator Jonathan Prince. ``All they've got to do is decide whether they want to use the 60-minute version, or the 90-minute version -- I did it both ways.''
American Dreams, which followed two middle-class families -- one black, one white -- as they were washed along by the cultural and political tidal waves that swept through the 1960s, was an instant critical success when it debuted in 2002. It was consistently NBC's highest-rated show in critics' polls, including one taken this summer after the show had already left the air.
Unfortunately, the high ratings that count most with network executives are the ones from Nielsen, and American Dreams was never better than so-so there. The show floated uneasily on the cancellation bubble every year, and once even fell through.
''Nobody knows this, but Dreams was canceled last year, just before Christmas,'' says Prince. NBC executives told him to shut down production, that they would air only the 13 episodes already completed. Prince thought it over a moment, then replied: ``I'm not OK with that.''
He wangled a promise from NBC that he could complete his scheduled 17 episodes if he could come up with advertising support for them. After some intense negotiations, Prince struck product placement deals with Kraft cheese and Oreo cookies. (The latter was particularly memorable: Without ever mentioning the cookie's name, American Dreams dad Jack Pryor and son Will had a long, funny on-screen argument about the best way to eat Oreos.)
''Through the whole thing, the scripts kept coming in, everybody showed up for work, and the actors never knew we'd been canceled,'' Prince says. ``And of course, once we got the deals with Kraft and Oreo, we weren't canceled.''
But Prince knew the show's chances to return for a fourth season were dwindling. He didn't want to shoot the last episode as a series finale -- that would be like inviting cancellation -- but he didn't want to leave fans dangling, either. So he went to Zucker and Kevin Reilly, NBC's chief programmer, with an odd request.
''I asked them for money for an extra day and a half of shooting,'' he recalls. ``I said, if the show gets canceled -- if -- we'd be able to put a satisfying conclusion on it for the fans. I think they were a little surprised, but they gave me the money.''
Prince's original plans called for Meg to spend only the first six episodes of next season in Berkeley before her Vietnam-vet brother J.J. went to rescue her. But for his secret ending, Prince altered the story. The epilogue he shot takes place in 1969, three years later.
''It was really touching,'' he says. ``We had Gail O'Grady and Tom Verica [who played Meg's parents] in updated clothes, and we used makeup to age them, so they look really different than you saw them through the run of American Dreams. I think Gail and Tom were a little weirded out by the abrupt change of their look, and they were genuinely upset because shooting this really brought home the idea that the show might be canceled.
``The result is really, really emotional -- I promise you that anyone who watches will be weeping. If there are 15 lines of dialogue in the new ending, I'd be surprised. We use a lot of pictures, a lot of music, and a lot of silences. I think silences say a lot.''
The new ending almost didn't have to be used. A letter-writing campaign by Dreams' maniacally devoted fans -- they even hired a plane to buzz NBC headquarters here, towing a banner demanding that the show return -- came tantalizingly close to success. But in the final week of preparation of NBC's fall schedule, American Dreams got the ax. Though not before Prince tried one last gambit, which he cheerfully admits was a little dirty.
With American Dreams on the bubble, its cast was given permission to audition for other shows, with the understanding that they'd have to back out of them if Dreams returned. Three actors -- O'Grady, Will Estes (who played son J.J.) and Jonathan Adams (who played Henry Walker, patriarch of Dreams' black family) -- got important roles on new series on other networks.
''Because I'm not a very nice person, I called Kevin Reilly and said, `Hey, if you pick up our show, you not only get American Dreams, but you can screw over Gail's new show on CBS and Will and Jonathan's shows on Fox,'' confesses Prince.
It didn't work. But thanks to Prince, American Dreams viewers didn't get screwed over, either.