Generations of late-night movie fans have sang, danced and yelled back at the screen at midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show since its big-screen debut in the Glittery era of 1975. Tonight, the Richard O’Brien-conceived tale of flat-tired and guileless Brad and Janet and their eye-opening adventures with the alien transvestite Dr. Frank N. Furter plus Riff Raff and Magenta comes to the small screen on Fox.
With Orange Is the New Black’s Laverne Cox in the Frank N. Furter role Tim Curry made famous, the reimagined The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do The Time Warp Again won’t be live like recent network musical offerings such as NBC’s The Sound Of Music Live! and Fox’s own Grease Live! However, as executive producer Lou Adler reveals, that was never the plan with this version of the cult classic that he originally produced more than 40 years ago.
The legendary music producer (Can you say Tapestry?), Roxy co-owner and longtime Lakers courtside fixture also talked about how Emmy-nominee Cox was the key to this Kenny Ortega-directed effort. Having previewed the first part of the show at San Diego Comic-Con this summer, Adler also discussed taking on the NFL, who the new Rocky Horror is meant for and what the real big picture is.
DEADLINE: We’ve seen a return to musicals on the Big 4 in the last few years starting with the very successful The Sound Of Music in late 2013, but they were live. Why isn’t this new Rocky Horror live?
ADLER: We never had any intention of doing it live — and I say we, because Kenny Ortega is the director. We really wanted to make a film, and especially with the choreography that Kenny, because of his background, has done. It’s bigger and brighter and he wanted to be able to take the camera down to the ankle and take it to different positions on the choreography that would have been hard to capture live. I don’t think we would have done it if they asked us to do live — pretty sure we wouldn’t have but they never asked actually.
DEADLINE: TV is a pretty new landscape for you. So, for better or worse, what was the benefit of bringing Rocky Horror there instead of another movie?
ADLER: TV was always the idea since I’ve thought about doing this since 2008. I wanted to get to a broader audience and it’s why I went to Fox television as opposed to something like HBO. I just wanted those people that watch TV, and I thought there are lot of Brad and Janets out there that don’t go to midnight screenings, and they should be exposed to this, to the film and its message or messages.
DEADLINE: Messages aside, broadcast TV can be a harsh place nowadays. What’s your expectation of how Rocky Horror will do for a 2016 primetime audience?
ADLER: Well, actually, I have no way of knowing. I don’t know that audience that well. I’ve never dealt in television. I’ve heard various descriptions of what Fox’s television audience is, so it’s a shot in the dark basically, you know. All you can do or all I could do is get it on and then see what happens after that.
DEADLINE: You mean, the ratings?
ADLER: I’m not that interested in the ratings except that obviously the more people that see it, the more successful it is and it makes Fox happy and the sponsors happy, but I’m not concerned with that too much. I mean, if an amount of people or the right amount of people get the message and are exposed to what could happen to a Brad and Janet and exposed to Laverne Cox, who I think is just a force.
DEADLINE: Yes, but also a force on TV is the NFL, and you’re going up against the Chicago Bears-Green Bay Packers on CBS. As a sports fan yourself, do you think that limits Rocky’s potential reach?
ADLER: (laughs) I think it’s a bad game. I don’t know if the general NFL audience is going to be looking in and I don’t think that the 15-, 16-, 17-year-old girl that I’m interested in showing this to will be watching that game. I think in television you’re always up against something, and you’ve got to hope that your audience looks in.
DEADLINE: OK, so why Rocky Horror now if you’ve been thinking about this since 2008?
ADLER: We did it now is because we were introduced to Laverne Cox and thought this was the right way to do it now. We’ve had various people in mind, but we knew that they would always be compared to Tim Curry and that’s a losing battle. We thought that with Laverne, being a transgender person and so talented, that this was the right way to go and so it became now let’s do it. No plan B, just if we would do it with Laverne and Fox would agree we would make it now. And they did, so we did.
DEADLINE: It’s inevitable that the new version will be compared to the original…
ADLER: Yes, but you’ll recall that the original didn’t get very good reviews when it first came out, and actually failed, and it was the fans and the fact that we went to midnight that has made it last for 40 some years. And I think if you’re comparing it to the original, you lose.
DEADLINE: There is a different tone to this new version, more polished in many ways. Was that intentional or a product of the medium?
ADLER: Our intention was never to try to be as raw as the original either in any aspect of it.
DEADLINE: Yes, but another change was to add the audience so to speak, with viewers watching the movie in the TV movie in theaters like those legendary midnight screenings. Where did that come from?
ADLER: Well, at one point, I wanted to actually go into theaters and film the responses and the callbacks from the fans. I always had in mind, and Kenny went along with it, that this was basically a love letter to the fans, a love letter to the original, and a tribute. Wherever we could get in anything that showed what happens in those theaters at midnight, that’s what we were trying to do. We weren’t shying away from it. We were going for it.
DEADLINE: So, what will be the mark of success for you from Rocky Horror on TV?
ADLER: That it drives people to the midnight showings to find out what that original is still, and would spawn this tribute.
DEADLINE: Does that mean that the Rocky Horror showings this weekend will be amped up as they commonly are around Halloween?
ADLER: Yes, they are, and that number is doubling and tripling as we speak. In fact, there will be more theaters showing it on the Halloween weekend than it has in many, many years.
DEADLINE: So, injecting new blood…
ADLER: Look, things change in this business and in the world and the triplex or whatever the numerous theaters in one building are called — hey could’ve been the death of Rocky Horror. But let me tell you, year after year the fans show up. Rocky Horror just won’t die.