NBC’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ remake gets writers, director

Back in July at the Television Critics Association press tour, NBC announced a slew of event series or miniseries productions that the network was moving forward on. 
The Hillary Clinton miniseries, which actually had a writer/director (Courtney Hunt) and a top-tier star (Diane Lane) attached, fell apart spectacularly and is dead.
It’s unclear where things stand on the adaptation of “Tommyknockers,” which had Yves Simoneau attached to direct, or a Mark Burnett-produced story of the Mayflower landing.
One event series that’s definitely moving forward is NBC’s “Rosemary’s Baby.” On Tuesday (December 10), NBC announced a formal greenlight for the miniseries, which is roaring towards a production start in January in Paris.
At the time of the original announcement, Scott Abbott (“Introducing Dorothy Dandridge”) was adapting the 1967 Ira Levin novel. Since then, James Wong (“The X Files”) has been an encouraging addition as co-writer. In addition, Oscar and Emmy nominated director Agnieszka Holland has signed on, with the “Treme” and “Europa, Europa” helmer making an interesting choice for the four-hour production.
Various NBC folks have enthusiastic statements.
“Ira Levin”s mesmerizing book was a groundbreaking reflection on how effective and influential a psychological thriller could be,” blurbs Quinn Taylor, Executive Vice President, Movies, Miniseries and International Co-Productions, NBC Entertainment. “We”re looking forward to adapting his incredible work and bringing those indelible characters to a new generation of viewers.”
Adds NBC Entertainment President Jennifer Salke, “As we move into the event movie and miniseries space, ‘Rosemary”s Baby” represents the kind of attention-getting, surprising project that will make noise for us. The story has been updated and moved to Paris, but it”s faithful to the spirit of Ira Levin”s classic novel. This is a compelling tale wonderfully told.”
Only in the very last sentence of the press release does NBC mention, “The book was later adapted into a feature film directed by Roman Polanski.” Oh right. That. The movie earned 10X its budget and was nominated for a screenplay Oscar and won an Oscar for supporting actress Ruth Gordon. It is considered a horror classic.
The benefits and risks associated with adapting a ’60s cinematic landmark are currently on display in A&E, History and Lifetime’s “Bonnie & Clyde,” which steered away from Arthur Penn’s bracing masterpiece by sanding away everything that made it thematically and aesthetically distinctive. While Emile Hirsch and Holliday Granger don’t embarrass themselves in “Bonnie & Clyde,” that’s mostly because either puts a meaningful stamp on roles that will continue to only be associated with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, in perpetuity. However, “Bonnie & Clyde” has been a solid hit for the three networks airing it, so they probably don’t care that unlike “Hatfields & McCoys,” this new miniseries probably won’t also be a major awards contender (Golden Globes don’t count).
Perhaps hoping to differentiate itself from Polanski’s film (but mostly hoping to capitalize on the lucrative international marketplace), the NBC “Rosemary’s Baby” has been transplanted to Paris, which isn’t necessarily a drawback in my book. Paris has the necessary mixture of architecture, antiquity and connection to the occult to play off of Levin’s book. Plus, ABC just did a New York-set update on “Rosemary’s Baby,” calling it “666 Park Avenue.” It wasn’t bad, but nobody watched it.
“Bonnie & Clyde” is pretty clearly and effectively a product of its time, a look at two Depression Era mobsters through the prism of the ’60s counterculture, simultaneously valorizing them as rage-and-the-machine outlaws, but propelling the story forward with a fatalism that also fueled works from “Easy Rider” to “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” “Rosemary’s Baby” also fits into the paranoia of the late-’60s and early-’70s, but it’s also just a disturbing creep-fest. To me, “Rosemary’s Baby” works ridiculously well to this day, but when I was in grad school, I TAed a class of undergrads who watched the movie and came away distressingly underwhelmed. My students tried saying that “Rosemary’s Baby” was too slow and not scary enough. We’ll see how a four-hour miniseries combats those complaints. 
It’s almost impossible to emphasize the importance of casting the main role. “Rosemary’s Baby” works because of both Mia Farrow’s performance, but how Polanski uses Farrow’s physicality and even her acting limitations. Cast Rosemary correctly and Holland is the sort of actor-oriented director who would be able to get great work from them. Cast Rosemary incorrectly and it won’t matter how well “Rosemary’s Baby” is written or how fantastically Holland captures the Eiffel Tower. 
The Diane Lane casting in the Clinton miniseries wasn’t necessarily perfect and we’ll never see it anyway, but it indicated the stature of actor NBC is targeting on these projects. On the just-recorded videocast, I joked about Carrie Underwood. HitFix’s Greg Ellwood suggested Elizabeth Olsen, who I actually think would work perfectly. I suggested Carey Mulligan, who I think would be great, but I can’t imagine she wants to step into another Mia Farrow role so soon after “The Great Gatsby.”