EMMYS: 'Hatfields & McCoys' Producer Leslie Greif

It might have taken three decades to turn America’s most famous family feud into a miniseries, but it’s been worth the effort for veteran TV and film producer Leslie Greif, whose Hatfields & McCoys broke basic cable ratings records in its Memorial Day debut. The three-part story about the infamous post-Civil War clash starring Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton ranked as the top three most-watched entertainment Boardwalk Empire telecasts of all time on ad-supported cable, with the conclusion drawing a record 14.3 million viewers. The mini’s success even earned Greif a congratulatory call from Bob Iger, CEO of Disney, which co-owns History Channel parent A&E Networks.

Hatfields & McCoysIt’s a fitting conclusion for a passion project that no one seemed interested in. Greif, a history buff, first got the idea for Hatfields & McCoys when he started in the TV business in the early 1980s. Broadcast television was attracting huge audiences with event miniseries like Roots and Shogun, and he thought a miniseries about the well-known rivalry would be the perfect calling card to break into the business. “It is a revenge story,” Greif explains. “I thought it had all the great drama, on top of it being a true story. I thought it would make for riveting television.”

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There was some initial interest – one of the hottest writers at the time, Bill Kerby [The Rose], came onboard to write the mini, which was set up at CBS. But after languishing at the network for a while, it ended up in turnaround. For the next three decades, the project bounced around. Despite attracting top talent – Burt Lancaster was attached to star at one point, with Burt Reynolds and Tom Selleck also showing strong interest through the years — the mini never got to a green light.

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“I presented it to any network that would consider doing it – there wasn’t a network executive that hadn’t heard my passion, my pledge, my pleas,” Greif says. It got to a point where he would sit down with network brass for a meeting, and they would start off by asking, “Please, don’t bring up the Hatfields & McCoys again.” Greif thought he had exhausted every perceivable option when three years ago he read that History was looking to enter original programming. He took his Hatfields & McCoys pitch to the channel’s president Nancy Dubuc. “In one meeting, she said yes,” Greif says, calling Dubuc “the visionary broadcaster of our generation.”

Costner was then approached to star. “He called me and said he would do it on one condition: ‘Do not change a word in the script.’ So we didn’t cut one thing.” The project was originally shopped “as a feature on TV” and a two-part miniseries. Because of Costner’s request, it was expanded to a three-part event, which History aired on three consecutive nights. And despite airing decades after the heyday of event miniseries, Greif feels Hatfields & McCoys was able to recapture the magic of those big telecasts of yesteryear. “It has become an event, with people watching together and talking about it,” Greif says.

Despite his Hatfields & McCoys idea getting shut down early on, Greif did make his producing debut with an event miniseries, 1986’s Sins starring Joan Collins and Timothy Dalton. He gradually expanded into features, scripted series, including the long-running Walker, Texas Ranger, which he co-created and executive produced, and TV documentaries, including 2007’s Brando. And when the longform arena started to shrink as broadcast and some cable networks abandoned the genre, Greif focused a lot of his efforts in the fast-growing reality field, where he has produced a number of series, including cable hit Gene Simmons: Family Jewels on History sibling A&E.

Now Greif, an Emmy nominee for Brando, faces the possibility of a second Emmy nomination for Hatfields & McCoys. And Emmy voters always have the appetite for vintage stories: Another blockbuster Western miniseries, AMC’s Broken Trail, ended up winning the best miniseries Emmy in 2007.

“It would be a huge honor,” Greif says of a possible nomination. While he stresses that if he’s lucky enough to get a nom, he knows the competition in the category would be “stellar”. But he would also like to see all nominees on similar footing, noting that the best lightweight boxer doesn’t stand a chance against a heavyweight one. “Doing a two-hour TV movie is not the same as a six-hour miniseries or a 12-hour limited series,” he points out. “The writing, directing, the scope, the attitude and the money are very different.”

The longform field is a lot more crowded than it was in 2007 when Broken Trail won because last year, the TV Academy merged the best original movie and best miniseries categories. While he stresses that he’d be lucky to get a nom in the top longform category, Greif also would like to see all nominees on similar footing, noting that the best lightweight boxer doesn’t stand a chance against a heavyweight one. In addition to TV movies having to compete with miniseries, some programs that air as regular series also have qualified for the best movie/miniseries category, avoiding more fierce competition in the best series categories. Recent cases include the first season of Downton Abbey last year and American Horror Story this year.

Whatever happens at this year’s Emmys, Greif says there’s no question that Hatfields & McCoys has completed its journey — it won’t go the way of other successful miniseries, such as USA’s The Starter Wife, which spawned a regular series. “There will be no season two,” Greif says. “This is the fork of the story. “

(Photo of Kevin Costner, Leslie Greif and Bill Paxton by Getty Immages)

  1. This was shockingly good. Not a fan of Costner or Paxton, but they were tremendous in H&M. One of the best things I’ve seen on TV in a long time.

  2. I completely agree.

    Tuned in to watch the first 30 minutes and give it a try and was just knocked out by every detail.

    Was surprised by my anticipation to see the next 2 parts.

    Kudos to everyone who their visions rewarded especially Mr. Greif! You’ve already won the “audience” Emmy!

  3. Best minseries since Lonesome Dove. If Jena Malone, Andrew Howard, and Tom Berenger don’t get supporting noms, there’s no justice. Congrats to Grief and all involved… Hopefully more quality miniseries from History to come.

    Good to see another network inthe longform game. As much as I appreciate the yearly political satire from HBO, where formerly hot feature actors impersonate some recent DC politico (Recount, Too Big to Fail, Game Change The Special Relationship) , they’re becoming less and less relevant. Hemingway and Gellhorn? Al Pacino as Phil Spector? Give me Costner and Paxton in a post Civil War drama over the vanity pieces or an SNL impression/docudrama hybrid that’s hailed by critics as high art.

  4. This was above and beyond any of the other potential nominees for mini series. Hell, it was above and beyond most regular series and movies that were released in the past year. It really deserves to win.

    Oh, and sorry to be ‘that guy,’ Nellie, but you have that line about heavyweight vs. lightweight boxers in there twice;)

  5. Congratulations to Leslie. He deserves all the recognition he is finally getting. He was destined for success. You knew it from the determination and perseverance that he brought to his playing dodge ball at Lanai Road Elementary!

  6. Please let me know the true facts. The miniseries was excellent and loved Costner and Paxton and rest of the actors, but in another movie I bought, it showed two McCoy brothers being shot by Tug Fork river instead of three. And who really shot Jim Vance? Was he killed by bounty hunters or Anderson Hatfield? I have ordered book by Coleman Hatfield.

  7. Ted Mann… one of the most brilliant and yet unsung writers in TV… truly gifted. Thanks, Ted.

  8. Shockingly good on all accounts. This should be nominated in every potential category, and could win several awards, including MOW/picture and director.

    The acting was superb – Costner at his best, but the supporting roles were equally strong. And Jenna Malone – she’s been good for a long time, but this might be her best work.

    Best of luck to all, and congrats to The History Channel for making this one. Bold and smart, and it paid off.

  9. Director Kevin Reynolds deserves a lot more credit than he is being given for this project. Considering the long history Reynolds and Costner have beginning with Fandango (which really got Costner’s career off the ground), Prince of Thieves, Rapa Nui and (the fiasco of) Water World, (not to mention Reynolds “behind the scenes” help on Dances with Wolves),it is a pleasant surprise that their relationship seems to have come full circle. Hatfields and McCoys brought out the best in both of them and it is clearly reflected in the finished product. Hopefully, the two Kevin’s will work on something else in the future.

  10. Strange that no mention is made of ABC’s mid-seventies film THE HATFIELDS AND THE McCOYS which co-starred Jack Palance and Steve Forrest and which I narrated as well as guest starred as reporter T.C. Crawford. It was beautifully written by Clyde Ware and directed with great finesse by him but unfortunately mangled in post production by the justifiably notorious producer Chuck Fries.

  11. This was excellent; riveting. Quality production; acting, writing, cinematography. Best miniseries in a long time

  12. I am from Matewan WV and my boyfriend is the great grandson of Floyd (the pig thief ). We are very happy with the movie. Love everything about it

  13. I loved this piece of film. And although kudos go to Costner who was excellent and Tom Berenger who stole the show, what I was blown away by was the marketing campaign History channel put forth. The images were riveting, almost like original Daguerrotypes (sp), singular in their context, of real looking people from that era. 17 million viewers in the cume on the fist night tells you everything you need to know about how in trouble traditional channels are. Do good work, let the audience know the show exists with provocative key art, and people will show up no matter where the channel is. Great combination of subject matter and top shelf execution.

  14. once again, Bill Goldman was right.
    Nobody knows a f’ing thing.
    Good Greif!!!!
    the suits have been proven wrong again and again and again.

  15. I really loved this series! First time my whole family sat in front of the tv together and watched something we all lived in a good long while. I’d have to say jena malone stole the show though. I’m so excited to see what she does next. And if my casting office is right she might be playing Johanna mason in the next hunger games. Which I think would be so amazing. Anyone?

  16. Tom Berenger in this western mini-series, is the best of all the cast.

    I always said That Tom Berenger with AL Pacino is the Best actor in the world.

    A concept, That I repeat from Many Years.

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