By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine
It has been almost 40 years since the original TV series Roots came to us in a 12 episode series. It was one of the most watched series in TV history and was based on the book by Alex Haley. Currently we are halfway thru the new Roots, a 4 episode series which is billed as “an epic family saga with a new vision that is both inspiring and tremendously entertaining.” LeVar Burton, the actor that played the original Kunta Kinte, is a Co-executive producer who was originally against any remake of the story but was persuaded to do so after being visited by Executive Producer Mark Wolper.
Wolper explained to Burton that a great story should be told to each generation. I think that has been done since the beginning of time. Burton agreed but still questioned the remake. Wolper went on to explain he had asked his 16 year old son to sit and watch the original series. Wolper’s father, his son’s grandfather, had produced the 1977 series so it was important he watch it for many reasons.
Young Wolper sat and watched it and although he was impressed, he said it would not play well for current audiences, meaning millennials. It was too frightening. Young Wolper went on to explain to his Dad that it was like his music. Great in his day but it isn’t current. Dad understood that analogy, thus the remake.
I think this is a lesson we could all learn from. Updating a story, whether a new one or a remake, to the current audience or reader. How will it play with today’s reader? What are they looking for? What entertains them? Will they understand it as I present it or do I need to learn to speak their language? This must all be considered.
When considering all these things we must be willing to compromise. We may have limitations to how far we will go. Know your boundaries. As was said, a great story should be told to each generation but do remember the words of Young Wolper to his Dad, “Dad it’s like your music. It was great in your day but it doesn’t speak to us today.”