EXCLUSIVE: A feature documentary about legendary media figure Dan Rather is in the works.
Original Productions, the Fremantle-owned producer of shows such as Deadliest Catch, has teamed up with Knock Down The House producer Wavelength, Anchor Entertainment and The Kennedy/Marshall Company on the project.
The doc, which is directed by One9, director of Nas: Time Is Illmatic, and Jessica Sherif, who worked on Dan Rather Reports, will take a close and personal look into Rather’s 60-year career and offer unrestricted access into his journey of becoming one of journalism’s most emphatic forces.
The feature will examine the evolution of American journalism through the personal lens of Rather, who was a witness to the birth of the civil rights movement, Watergate, and the current social upheaval, where he has become a star with millennials. Rather has opened up his personal archives to the filmmakers.
One9, who also produced L.A. Burning: The Riots 25 Years Later and Sherif will exec produce along with Jeff Hasler from Original Productions, Ethan Goldman from Anchor Entertainment, Jenifer Westphal and Joe Plummer from Wavelength, Frank Marshall and Ryan Suffern from The Kennedy/Marshall Company, and Wayne Nelson from News and Guts Media.
“There is not a single person throughout history who has helped to shape and guide America’s views and understanding of current events more than Dan Rather,” said Jeff Hasler, President of Original Productions. “His continued impact on news media is undeniable and there simply couldn’t be a more profound subject for documentary filmmaking.”
“As documentary filmmakers, we want to capture the spirit of Dan Rather’s pursuit of free and independent journalism” added One9 and Sherif. “A man of incredible courage and resilience, Dan Rather’s personal and professional lives showcase the importance of journalism in America’s understanding of its past, present and future.”
“Pulling no punches and following the story wherever it leads, Dan Rather is a journalistic titan. We are honored to tell his story and work to preserve his legacy for future generations,” said Jenifer Westphal, Founder, CEO, and Executive Producer at Wavelength.
“I was first riveted by Dan Rather’s reporting over 60 years ago, during Hurricane Carla, and am now thrilled to be a part of this incredible team telling the amazing story of one of the most important journalists of our time,” added Frank Marshall, The Kennedy/Marshall Company.
The feature doc is the second feature doc for Original Productions after last year’s release of Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles, which followed the renowned chef as he assembled a team of preeminent pastry culinary artists from around the world to organize a food gala inspired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit Visitors to Versailles.
Hasler joined Original Productions in 2018 and was tasked with building back the production company, following the exit of Thom Beers in 2015.
Hasler, who was at Discovery when Beers sold Deadliest Catch (left), told Deadline, “After Thom left, the brand stumbled and when I came in in 2018 they had two shows on the air from 10 or 12 when Thom was there. To me, one of the things I loved about the brand was it wasn’t just bearded dudes doing bearded dude things, it was about big, bold, ambitious ideas told in a really well-crafted way,” he said. “The first two years were about stabilizing the ship and then expanding the brand into the premium space and feature docs while protecting the core.”
The company now has 14 shows in production, including Deadliest Catch, which is entering its 17th season, spinoff Deadliest Catch: Bloodline, which launched in 2020, and Bering Sea Gold, which is filming its 10th season.
Hasler (right) added that moving into feature docs and more premium series brought more attention to its core projects. “Every production company needs those shows that run for 10 seasons but to be seen as a player today and not just a dusty old brand, we have to show we can play in a premium space,” he added. “In 2021, it doesn’t have to be one or the other.”
Brian Lovett (right), who worked with Hasler at Nat Geo Studios and moved over with him in 2018 as EVP Production & Development at Original Productions, said that even on its hit shows, it has gone through a process of reinvention.
“We have to come up with ways of surprising people. For Season 16 of Deadliest Catch, we changed the look, the camera gear, shot things a different way, using more end of lens, using negative space, it doesn’t need to always be the wide shot in someone’s face. We wanted to make it fresh and elevated,” he said.
Lovett also highlighted the fact that when they arrived they were doing 10 episodes of Bering Sea Gold a year and it is now doing over 30, while also bringing back shows such as Monster Garage, which had previously run on the Discovery Channel, and premiered its version on Discovery+ earlier this year.
The pair said the focus on the series side was finding diverse talent, and shows that feature people and world, compelling IP and access. “We can’t keep telling those same stories. We’re also finding millennial characters, who bring a whole new sensibility – millennial versions of the classic Original Productions characters. You still get all the male skewing guy angel, but it’s more enlightened,” added Hasler.