Norman Lear’s longtime passion project Guess Who Died is coming closer to reality. The single-camera comedy, on which he has teamed with Rescue Me creator Peter Tolan, has landed at NBC with a pilot production commitment. Sony TV, where Tolan is under an overall deal and where Lear has the Netflix revival of his One Day At A Time, is the studio.
Based on Lear’s personal experiences and in partnership with Tolan, Guess Who Died is described as a humorous and inspiring look at the shared joys and challenges we all experience at any stage of life.
Lear and Tolan executive produce via their production companies, Act III Productions and The Cloudland Company, respectively, alongside Lear’s associate Brent Miller.
Lear, who recently celebrated his 95th birthday, originally wrote Guess Who Died, set at a retirement village, about seven years ago and had been trying to get it made ever since. In a 2016 NYT documentary, which featured Lear as he was casting the project, he calls it “a show about the elderly that nobody wants.” A reading of his script was held at the 2016 at the Austin Film Festival.
“The right people read it, the right people thought it’s funny, but the right people said it’s not our demographic,” Lear says in the documentary, lamenting TV networks’ obsession with younger demos. “I wrote it because we are so underrepresented.”
Sony TV then introduced Lear to Tolan, who teamed up and have been working together on Guess Who Died as a spec script for the past eight or so months.
NBC, the network of The Golden Girls, went for the project when it was recently taken out by the studio. At the summer TCA press tour, where NBC announced its new Female Forward initiative for training and employing female episodic directors, the network’s executives talked about embracing all kinds of diversity, including series featuring older characters.
“If you look across our shows, look at all the Dick Wolf shows, we are exploring the lives of characters of all ages,” NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke said then. “You look like Trial & Error (with John Lithgow) and what that did, you look at Tina Fey’s new comedy Great News with an incredible actress of a certain age, Andrea Martin, at the center of it. Better Late Than Never is one of my favorite shows.”
In addition to Better Late Than Ever, featuring older celebrities backpacking around the world, on the unscripted side, NBC also has Off Their Rockers, starring Golden Girl Betty White, as well as thew new Little Big Shots: Forever Young, a Little Big Shots offshoot showcasing mature performers.
“We are celebrating people of all ages,” Salke said, adding, “and the Golden Girls original key art is featured in the hallway in the programming department.”
Tolan, whose series also include The Larry Sanders Show and Murphy Brown, which earned him Emmy Awards, recently executive produced Sony TV’s WGN America drama series Outsiders. He is repped by CAA and attorney Ira Schreck.
Lear, the writer-producer behind such classic TV sitcoms as All In The Family, Sanford And Son, One Day At A Time, The Jeffersons, Good Times and Maude, was recently selected as one of the 2017 recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors.
Guess Who Died marks the first big commitment for indie studio Sony TV this broadcast buying season. At NBC, the studio has drama series The Blacklist, Timeless and The Night Shift.
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