Variety’s Virtual TV Fest shines with the power of story and honesty
It’s been 50 years since the Watergate scandal broke – but thanks to today’s television landscape, it’s still part of the conversation. With a dozen movies and TV shows made about the political scandal, writer Robbie Pickering set out to tell a different story with Starz’s “Gaslit” – that of Martha Mitchell, wife of Richard Nixon’s Attorney General , John N. Mitchell, and the first person to speak publicly about the former president’s role in Watergate.
But getting into the subject was a heavyweight. Pickering, part of Variety’s Virtual TV Fest which runs June 7-9, has been obsessed with the subject for years — even more so when he listened to Slate’s “Slow Burn” podcast. Yet he felt there was still something new to say.
“I think Martha’s story just needed to be heard. If you look at the variety of stories being told about Watergate, there are roughly two: there’s a story about Nixon and there’s a story about Woodward and Bernstein. And everyone tells these stories over and over again. Martha was at the center of these.
First, Pickering tapped Julia Roberts for the iconic role. She had one condition: to have Sean Penn play her husband. Of course, Pickering wanted Penn too, but he was a little worried about meeting and getting to know him lest he bring up politics.
“I didn’t really want to talk politics with this guy. I know Sean has a political megaphone and all that, but the politics of this period was done. I’m very interested in relationships and human dynamics,” he says. But he was pleasantly surprised when he arrived at dinner in a leather jacket (to look cool for the double Oscar winner). “All Sean wanted to talk about was that. He never even talked about politics. We talked a lot about marriage.
So while the story surrounds the script, the limited series isn’t at all about the part of Watergate actually written in the history textbooks, but the people behind it and the relationships they had. In fact, Penn’s father had a similarity to John Mitchell, as someone who smoked his pipe. Pickering loved it so much he wrote it into the UCP series.
“It was this very cool, intimate story about marriage and these little ways marriage affects you. I was just blown away by it. I was also blown away by Sean’s dad having this in common with this villain of the story,” Pickering says. “It connects us all. We all have these human things that we do.
With so much content and so many ways to consume it, much of what gets digested comes down to timing – this has worked to many limited series’ advantage as the ‘true story based’ model continues to grow. and that year came to the fore.
HBO Max’s “The Staircase,” created by Antonio Campos, tells the story of Michael Peterson and the mysterious death of his wife, Kathleen, an affair that took place in 2003; “Dr. Dead” focuses on neurosurgeon Christopher Dunsch who was sentenced to life in prison in 2017 for mutilating a patient and injuring dozens of others; Hulu’s “The Dropout” follows the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes and her biotech company Theranos. She is expected to be sentenced in September for defrauding investors.
The common thread running through some of the biggest limited shows of the past year is simple: the truth.
For Joshua Jackson, during his transformation into Dunsch for “Dr. Death”, he did everything to tell the real story. Although he never came face to face with the man he was portraying – who is behind bars – Jackson ultimately thinks it was for the best. It allowed the band to tell the story from a different perspective. It allowed the band to tell this version of that story.
“He’s not the best person to tell his own story, strangely, because, in my opinion, he’s so deeply invested in the fiction of himself as this genius white knight who was beset from all sides by people who misunderstood him or were away to make him understand that I’m not sure you can ask a liar a direct question to try to find out the truth,” Jackson said. Variety. “I wasn’t too upset that I didn’t have access to him, but because of the podcasts and because of the work that Patrick and the writers did, I had access to almost a terabyte of material to sort through and sift through beforehand.”
While “Dr. Death,” “The Dropout,” and “Gaslit” are taken from podcasts based on true events, Hulu’s “Dopesick” is based on the nonfiction book “Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Company That Addicted America”.
Created by Danny Strong, the eight-episode series takes a close look at opioid addiction across the United States, how it affects both individuals and families, and Big Pharma. When Michael Keaton, who directs “Dopesick” as family doctor Samuel Finnix, won the SAG Award in February, he proved how touching — and personal — the show was for him, by dedicating it to his nephew. deceased.
“There are massive inequalities in the world. In ‘Dopesick’, when you talk about addiction, the way to cure the problem is to accept that you have a problem. Not our country — the whole world. Economically, racially, socially, financially. There is huge inequality in the world. There’s only. There is fairness and there is unfairness. There’s not a lot of room in between,” the Emmy nominee said at the time. “I can feel the eye rolling thunder right now at people saying things to me like ‘Shut up and dribble. Shut up and act. The game, I will stop. Closing, not so much. I am lucky to be able to do something that could improve someone’s life.
Through tears he noted, “Given the subject, this is for my nephew, Michael, and my sister, Pam. I lost my nephew Michael to drugs, and it hurts. The speech was just another example of the power of telling true stories, especially through the lens of a limited series.
In “The Girl From Plainville,” which looks at the case of Michelle Carter, who was convicted of manslaughter for encouraging her boyfriend to kill himself, and “The Dropout,” Liz Hannah had to step on the line of how much was appropriate to show on screen, especially when viewers watched the real story unfold.
“The challenge we had was for everyone to be able to see the trial. It’s over there,” she says of the very public hearings that took place years before both shows. “The difficulty of a retread where now there are actors playing these roles, I think was quite daunting and emotional.”
Others based on real events in contention this year include ‘Pam & Tommy’, ‘Inventing Anna’, ‘Under the Banner of Heaven’, ‘Candy’, ‘Impeachment: American Crime Story’ and ‘Super Pumped: The Battle of Uber”. ”