Clark: History Channel looking at messing with history itself

November 12, 2013 

Here we go again, all fellow foes of the remake. And this one, friends, is a doozy.

A perplexing and disturbing story crossed the wires last week, one that can only feed disdain for the modern-day trend to remake everything Hollywood has put out in the past.

According to a variety of news services, the seminal miniseries “Roots” is going to be remade by the History Channel.

Oh. No. They. Didn’t.

Which is to say, Oh. No. They. Didn’t!

There are a couple of ways that this confounds. At the very base, why? Why, why, why would anyone remake something that was done to perfection in the first place? Why mess with something that was so universally praised, so universally viewed, so universally beloved as the multiple Emmy-winning miniseries that not only unflinchingly, touchingly and superbly told the story of slavery in America, but in the process revolutionized the very idea of the miniseries itself?

“Roots” aired in 1977. OK, so that was a long time ago. Television technology has changed. The quality of film has improved immensely. But, doggone it, “Roots” was a phenomenon. It’s untouchable, as far as I’m concerned.

The final episode of this story based on Alex Haley’s book, “Roots: The Saga of An American Family,” remains the third-most-watched telecast of all time, according to a New York Daily News online report, drawing an estimated 100million viewers. The miniseries changed the way Americans not only watched TV, but – far more importantly – raised an invaluable awareness and deeper understanding about the realities and barbarities of slavery in our nation.

I still can remember how I had to look away from the screen during some scenes in “Roots” because they were so vividly disturbing. I was a teenager when it originally aired, and the miniseries went far beyond any lessons on slavery that I’d ever had or would have in school.

Which is why this move by the History Channel is that much more frustrating. “Roots” isn’t just a history lesson about slavery, the miniseries itself is a piece of American history, too.

Hello, History Channel. That’s a double-dip of history. Just show the original. Make it a blowout event. Heck, a massive marketing campaign championing the re-airing of the original series could not come close to costing as much as an entire remake. Gather together members of the original cast. Revisit how it was made. Do whatever you have to do to draw attention to re-airing the original eight episodes.

Just don’t remake it.

And just how can filmmakers improve on the original, anyway? It’s not like modern technology is going to change the saga of colonial America. There aren’t going to be any “Matrix”-like fight scenes between Kunta Kinte and his captors. Computer-generated scenes are not exactly called for in this case, now are they?

According to a Los Angeles Times story, the History Channel reported that “the new version will draw on the original novel by Alex Haley and the miniseries for a ‘contemporary perspective.’”

A contemporary perspective on the 1700s? Uh-huh.

The Associated Press did report that “the project is in development, meaning there’s a possibility it won’t be made, but the commitment makes it likely the new series will appear some time in 2015.”

Here’s hoping the development falls through and the History Channel just gives us the original. Nothing could be better than that.

Skater man

Modesto-bred actor Timothy Olyphant couldn’t have been further from his “Justified” character Raylan Givens last week on “The Mindy Project.” Olyphant played a 40-something skater dude whom lead character Mindy dated for no other reason than to prove she wasn’t picky when it comes to men.

Olyphant’s character had him sporting long hair, multiple tattoos and a who-cares attitude. The local guy’s addition to the show – which I was almost lukewarm to in its first season and am finding even more difficult to enjoy this year – made it much easier to watch.

Making it even easier was fast-forwarding through any scenes featuring new character Peter Prentiss. This frat-boy doctor in Mindy’s practice is over-the-top grating. Actor Adam Pally has some funny lines and pretty good delivery. But the obnoxious character is just too, too much. More Mindy, less frat boy, please.

And, P.S., the loss of Mindy’s beau, minister Casey, is close to a death blow for the show.

Big mistake.

Reach Scene editor Pat Clark at pclark@modbee.com.

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