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Farrah Fawcett's TV special doesn't really tell her story, producer says

May 16, 2009 |  8:25 pm

The executive producer who's suing to regain creative control of the NBC special "Farrah's Story" says he's putting up a fight because "it's not the show Farrah Fawcett wanted."

In an exclusive, in-depth interview with Gold Derby, Craig Nevius says Farrah Fawcett wanted the program to be presented in a diary format — not in the traditional documentary mode with talking heads, as was used — emphasizing urgent medical and legal issues that got downplayed in the final telecast.

Also, Nevius believes Fawcett would not have OK'd the inclusion of her troubled, 24-year-old son Redmond O'Neal, who is shown in prison uniform and leg chains as he climbs in bed with her, crying, "Mommy…Mommy." Fawcett appears to be so sick that she's oblivious to what's going on.

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Nevius says Fawcett refused to permit her son to be seen in her reality series "Chasing Farrah" on TV Land in 2005, which he also produced. Redmond's battle with drugs was becoming public back then. "He was getting it together and going through counseling at the time," Nevius says. "She didn't want a permanent record on film that would follow him throughout his later life." The only time Redmond's existence was acknowledged on "Chasing Farrah" was when he made one phone call to his mother.

Nevius launched a lawsuit last week claiming that creative control of the TV special was yanked from him six weeks ago by junior producer Alana Stewart, Fawcett's onetime boyfriend Ryan O'Neal and his business manager. "They told NBC that Farrah's in such poor health after returning from her last trip to Germany that 'she's not in a position to finish this and she wants us to finish it,' " Nevius adds.

When NBC granted their request, Nevius was surprised because Fawcett had already planned what should happen if she became too ill to continue to oversee the TV special.  "She had foreseen this possibility and assigned creative control to me," he says. "Last April she signed an agreement empowering me to make the creative decisions." "Farrah's Story," originally titled "Wing and a Prayer," was produced by Fawcett's and Nevius' company, Sweetened by Risk LLC.

Originally, Nevius says that the documentary was acquired by NBC's entertainment division, but it was recently transferred to the network's news division, which rushed to feature it as a special during May sweeps. New footage was hurriedly shot over the last several weeks without his consent, Nevius says, mostly interviews with O'Neal, medical personnel and former "Charlie's Angels" costars Jaclyn Smith and Kate Jackson, who are featured in the final edit. "Farrah hates that TV format," Nevius says. "Everybody who works with her knows that."

The prominence of Smith and Jackson seems a bit odd since Fawcett downplays the significance of "Charlie's Angels" during one scene in "Farrah's Story," reminding nurses, "I was only on the TV show for one season." Were her former costars suddenly jammed into "Farrah's Story" at the last minute to add sex appeal and hike TV ratings?

"I think it would've been fine to have Kate and Jaclyn participate in some stylistically appropriate way and Farrah was never against that," Nevius adds. "In fact, we shot Kate a few times for the first version of the show. The girls have remained friends since starring in 'Charlie's Angels' " in 1976-77.

When Fawcett and Nevius initially developed the TV special, "we had numerous offers from the networks," he says, "and one of the reasons we went with NBC is because they said to Farrah, 'This is your story. We'll tell it your way, in your words.' She was adamant about one thing: She wanted this edited like a movie using her diary for narration. She didn't want the talking-head format with its abrupt interruptions. Also, that changes its point of view."

In addition, he says, Fawcett wanted the TV special to stress important medical issues that ended up getting only passing mention in Friday night's telecast. "Farrah wants to know why chemotherapy sensitivity tests are done in Germany and elsewhere, but not here in America," Nevius says. "This is a huge, huge issue for Farrah and she wants to really, really focus on it."

Fawcett also wanted to explore controversial topics such as why certain experimental drugs are approved by the FDA for just one kind of cancer but not another. "She wants to know: Why do some medicines cost 10 times more in the United States than they do in Germany?" he says. "Aren't we limiting cancer treatment to the rich? 'Why aren't we encouraging mad-scientist thinking?' she likes to ask. Farrah wanted this TV special to have an impact. She wanted this to affect change in the medical world."

Instead, Fawcett has come under severe criticism because NBC edited out lots of original footage that addressed these topics. In its review of "Farrah's Story," the New York Post wrote, "It does not register with her that her wealth and fame, which afford her private jets to Germany and an international team of doctors, are unavailable to the vast majority of cancer sufferers, and that, if not for her station in life, she would not have had extra time. She does not seem to wrestle, at all, with the notion that there may be some experiences best kept private, that the unintended consequences of oversharing can be a cheapening and coarsening of the most meaningful moments."

The New York Times was also harsh, particularly about the absence of more solid medical info: "Nobody mentions anal pap smears, which researchers increasingly cite as a way to screen for cell changes that lead to anal cancer. The film also doesn’t make clear that in many cases, anal cancer can be treated and cured."

The New York Times called the TV special "awful because it was an exploitative portrait of a celebrity's fight with cancer. ... NBC took Ms. Fawcett's candid video diary and allowed it to be packaged as a generic VH1 'Behind the Music' biography — maudlin music, gauzy slow-motion film, and pseudo-revealing interviews with friends, coworkers, doctors and hairdressers reminiscing about a former star. ... She deserves a different, less exploitative television tribute."

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Photo: Associated Press

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