EXCLUSIVE: Iconic Hollywood producer and former studio head Robert Evans has partnered with Television 360 to develop a pay cable TV series about Hollywood in the 1970s. They’ve made a deal with Fox 21, and Evans is exec producing with Guymon Casady, Dean Schnider, Scott Lambert and Brett Ratner. They are out to writers right now. The vision of the series is much darker than the contemporary inside Hollywood depicted in Entourage. Set in the ’70s with a creative tone similar to Casino, it involves the last days before studios were taken over by conglomerates, when they were run by wily entrepreneurs, and where there was a mob influence, drugs, sex, excess, casting couches, and some of the best movies made in the 20th century. The protagonist is an outsider who against the odds rises to become a king in Hollywood in a tale of power, legacy, and the American dream.
The series isn’t based on Evans — real anecdotes will be used in a fictitious storyline — but everyone who either read or, better yet, heard him read the audio of The Kid Stays In The Picture knows that Evans started as an actor and rose to the top of Paramount Pictures when that studio was nearly out on its feet. He, with a scrappy team of execs that included my former Variety editor Peter Bart, saved the studio by making classics including The Godfather, Love Story, Rosemary’s Baby, Harold And Maude, The Odd Couple, The Conversation, Serpico and others. Evans has plenty of stories to tell about that era, and I’ve got one of my own to tell about Evans from back when I was a cub reporter at Weekly Variety. I didn’t know Evans well then, but Simon & Schuster had just kicked The Kid Stays In The Picture to the curb after he turned in the manuscript. A source who’d read it sent it to me and told me that just because Paramount — which owned S&S — didn’t want Evans to tell the studio’s story didn’t mean that the book wasn’t a worthy read. I sat there and thumbed my way through the pages of a manuscript that must have been half a foot high. While the book needed trimming and editing, everything in the finished product was there, and I wrote a column about some of his great yarns and how the memoirs deserved a second chance. Then I forgot about it. Later, Evans called me and said he wanted to put a quote from me on the back of the book, which surprised me because I recall the others came from legitimately important people like Jack Nicholson, the producer David Brown, and Faye Dunaway or someone like that.
Why me? Evans told me that Disney chief Michael Eisner read that column I wrote and requested copies for his wife and himself to read that weekend. He immediately set the book to be published by Disney-owned Hyperion. I am sure that the book would have gotten published anyway — it was just too good — but it flattered me that he remembered, and it always made me glad to maybe have played even a tiny role in allowing the charming Evans to climb back into the game. Evans sent me a signed copy. Alongside an actual machete hand-signed by Danny Trejo, it’s my favorite memento from this job.