Roots, a remake of one of the most celebrated TV programs of all time, blockbuster 1977 miniseries Roots, is a go at History, which has been developing the project for over a year. The new event series is being made into a big A+E Networks affair, with History, A&E and Lifetime all set to simulcast it. (The company previously applied that approach to the Bonnie & Clyde miniseries.)
Additionally, prolific feature producer Will Packer (Ride Along, Think Like A Man), who is making a major foray into TV, has come on board as executive producer, and original Roots cast member, Emmy winner LeVar Burton has joined as co-executive producer. Mark Wolper, whose father, David L. Wolper, executive produced the 1977 miniseries, also serves as executive producer. Roots, which is stated to air in 2016, is an A+E Studios production in association with Marc Toberoff and The Wolper Organization, the company that produced the original. Allen Hughes, originally attached as director and executive producer, had to pull out.
The new version of Alex Haley’s American family origin story based around the life of Kunta Kinte — played in the mini by Burton — is described as an original, contemporary production, incorporating more material from Haley’s novel, Roots: The Saga Of An American Family, as well as carefully researched new scholarship of the time. The event series is being written by Lawrence Konner (Boardwalk Empire), Mark Rosenthal (Mona Lisa Smile), Alison McDonald (Alpha House) and Charles Murray (Sons of Anarchy). Vickie Thomas (The Hateful Eight, 42, Django Unchained) is casting director.
“Roots was a groundbreaking television milestone that has had an enduring effect on American culture,” said History’s Dirk Hoogstra. “We are proud to bring this saga to fans of the original, as well as to a new generation that will experience this powerful and poignant tale for the first time.”
Roots is a historical portrait of American slavery recounting the journey of one family’s will to survive, endure and ultimately carry on their legacy despite enormous hardship and inhumanity. Panning multiple generations, the lineage begins with young Kunta Kinte who is captured in his homeland in The Gambia and transported in brutal conditions to colonial America where he’s sold into slavery. Throughout the series, the family continues to face adversity while bearing witness and contributing to notable events in U.S. history – including the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, slave uprisings and eventual emancipation.
“Kunta Kinte began telling his story over 200 years ago and that story went through his family lineage, to Alex Haley, to my father, and now the mantle rests with me,” said Wolper. “Like Kunta Kinte fought to tell his story over and over again, so must we.”
Debuting in January 1977, the eight-part original miniseries instantly became one of the biggest events in TV history, with an average of 80 million viewers for its run and 100 million tuning in to the finale.
“My career began with Roots and I am proud to be a part of this new adaptation,” said Burton. “There is a huge audience of contemporary young Americans who do not know the story of Roots or its importance. I believe now is the right time to tell this story so that we can all be reminded of its impact on our culture and identity.”
Will Packer, Marc Toberoff and Mark Wolper executive produce alongside Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal. LeVar Burton and Korin Huggins co-executive produce.