Miniseries, limited series – whatever you want to call them – are so hot right now the industry is starting to dust off some of the old ones. Discovery Channel, for example, which just announced it has ordered a remake of North And South from Lionsgate. North and South is the name of an 1980’s trilogy of novels by John Jakes. ABC made North And South into a miniseries that aired in 1985 and which remains one of the highest rated miniseries in TV history, averaging just under 40 million viewers. It starred Patrick Swayze as a soldier from South Carolina, and James Read as a solder from Pennsylvania, who became BFF’s while attending West Point, only to find themselves on opposite sides in the Civil War. The star-studded cast also included Elizabeth Taylor, Kirstie Alley, Hal Holbrook as Abraham Lincoln – even Gene Kelly and Robert Mitchum got in on the act.
The miniseries in development with Discovery and Lionsgate will re-dramatize this storyline: George Hazard and Orry Main meet as young men at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, families become close, “shows the vastly different ways of life for the Main and Hazard families which threaten to drive them apart, fracture marriages and poison sibling relationships… put to the ultimate test as fathers, sons, brothers and friends fight each other on the battlefields of the deadliest war America has ever seen.”
Discovery and Lionsgate are hoping they can re-create ratings history too: ABC’s North And South was such a hit with viewers, ABC turned the miniseries into a miniseries SERIES. The second at-bat, North And South: Book II debuted in 1986 – another hit, with an average of about 33 million viewers. Nearly a decade later, in 1994, ABC tried to dust off its North And South miniseries franchise with Heaven And Hell: North And South Book III. It was not considered a success — which is to say, its opening night averaged “only” 14.4 million viewers., and over its three nights (two hours per night) it averaged 13.7 mil. Based on those numbers, that appeared to be the end for North and South — until now! And yes, we think this makes Discovery’s Lionsgate project a dust off of a dust off of a wildly popular miniseries based on a hit novel series.
Author John Jakes, represented by Joel Gotler of IPG and Frank Curtis of Rembar & Curtis, will be an exec producer on the new miniseries. Discovery’s been making a big push into the scripted miniseries world. In July, the network announced it had ordered its second, about Scotland’s fight for independence from English rule in the 13th century, from Scott Free Productions, which also produced Discovery’s first original scripted mini, Klondike.