EXCLUSIVE: Morgan Freeman and Lori McCreary’s Revelations Entertainment has optioned Arthur T. Burton’s book Black, Red & Deadly for a TV series that they’ll develop about 19th century Arkansas slave-turned U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves. Revelations will work on the project with Malcolm Spellman, Ben Watkins, Josef Sawyer and Grey’s Anatomy actor James Pickens Jr.
Reeves was a notable lawman, a ‘Lone Ranger’ before there ever was one, whose legend has largely been ignored by history. Reeves captured 3K criminals –more than Pat Garrett, Wild Bill Hickok, and Wyatt Earp– with the use of flamboyant detective skills that were ahead of their time, i.e. sting operations to dressing up in disguises. His story unfurled against the backdrop of the birth of statehood and the foundation of Oklahoma. He partnered with a brash Irishman named Chauncey Lee, and together they were tasked with the impossible: impose the rule of law in the most dangerous place on Earth. Reeves’ story is described as 48 Hours meets Game of Thrones, set in the Wild West.
The Civil War gave Bass Reeves an opportunity to flee from his master William S. Reeves, who made Bass accompany his son, George Reeves, to fight for the Confederacy. During that time, Bass fled to Native American Territory (which is known today as Oklahoma). Bass learned the customs of the Seminole and Creek tribes. Following the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865 abolishing slavery, Bass became a free man. He married, returned to Arkansas, but was soon recruited by U.S. Marshal James Fagan to cuff criminals in the chaotic West. Possessing a strict moral compass, Bass even arrested one of his 11 sons for murdering his wife.
“When Morgan and I were editing the film he was directing Bopha! back in the early ’90s, Bass Reeves’ story was brought to our attention. Morgan is so well read on U.S. and world history, yet both of us had never heard of him. We decided we had to figure out how to tell Bass’ story,” McCreary tells Deadline. The feature project was originally set up at Castle Rock with Freeman attached to play Reeves.
“Back then we couldn’t quite crack the story, which was why we were thrilled when Malcom and Ben came in and opened up this world. Bass Reeves’ story speaks to what we are going through now in this country,” adds the Revelations CEO and producer.
Revelations optioned Burton’s book Black, Red & Deadly, but recently re-optioned it again along with the author’s Black Gun, Silver Star. Pickens was also fascinated with Reeves’ story, and after seeing Freeman speak about the legend in a TV interview, the two partnered up to develop a series. With the new iteration of the Reeves project, it hasn’t been determined yet whether Freeman will star and direct an episode.
Freeman and McCreary are repped by CAA. Freeman is also repped by Sloane, Offer, Weber & Dern. Pickens Jr. is repped by Artists & Representatives, Wright Entertainment and Meyer & Downs. Empire producer Spellman is repped by CAA, Industry Entertainment, and Del, Shaw, Moonves, Tanaka, Finkelstein & Lezcano. Burn Notice and Hand of God producer Watkins is repped by WME and Hirsch Wallerstein Hayum Matlof and Fishman.