Late last month, the CW announced that it was exploring “a hyper-stylized, gritty adaptation” of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel “Little Women.” Like many of you, I was perplexed by what this would mean. But I’m at the Television Critics Association press tour, an entire event devoted to giving reporters opportunities to figure out what’s up in the world of TV programming. So when the CW presented a series of panels yesterdays, I decided to take the opportunity to find out what was going on with this potential project.
“It’s a pitch,” CW president Mark Pedowitz told reporters, emphasizing that the show currently is only an idea and doesn’t even have a script for a pilot episode written (the network would have to cast, shoot and review a pilot before deciding if the show would become an actual TV show). “It’s an attempt to do something different. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, we took a shot. You got to take shots and you’ve got to let creative people do things that might be a different take on something. So we’ll see what happens when the script comes in.”
When I asked for details, Pedowitz directed me to CW executive vice president Thom Sherman, who actually took the pitch for the show from Alexis Jolly and Michael Weatherly, who currently stars on “NCIS.”
“The jumping-off point for the characters are the iconic characters from the book, in archetype, with the names and everything else,” Sherman explained of the pitch. “And you’ll see that they, in terms of their personalities, occupy the same space they occupied in the book. One of the characters is ill, which we come to learn in the pilot — she’s not going to die in the pilot, though. She will live. But that becomes part of the storyline for the series.”
Beyond that, though? Expect lots of differences.
“They come together in the pilot; they actually don’t know each other until the pilot. They’re sort of half sisters of the same father but different mothers,” Sherman said.
To a certain extent, that’s in keeping with Mr. March’s absence while he serves in the Civil War, which is a defining element of Alcott’s novel. But to have Mr. March be not just absent but a man who fathered daughters with multiple women and then abandoned them is a step beyond even the license the novelist Geraldine Brooks took with the character in “March,” which tells the story of the character’s war service from his own perspective and suggests strains in his marriage and vows of fidelity.
Then there’s the setting, which moves from Massachusetts to a “bloody, violent” post-apocalyptic Philadelphia.
“The show itself, we liken itself to ‘Gangs of New York,’ ” Sherman suggested. “There are these factions that are running this city. And in each faction are characters from the book that archetypically occupy those spaces in the book. You’ll recognize the names. The names will be similar, and you’ll go, ‘Oh, that’s Laurie.’ They decide to form their own clan to take back their own power and take back power in the city. They sort of become avenging angels, I think.”
And what about Marmee, a part that Susan Sarandon turned into a feminist icon in the most recent film adaptation of Alcott’s book? No word yet, but Gayle Hirsch, who oversees drama development at the network, promised that “There’s an Aunt March character who we’re still working on developing.”
Both Sherman and Hirsch emphasized their desire to make a show that would resonate with people who are unfamiliar with “Little Women.” Whether they can do that and satisfy fans of Alcott’s immortal novel is very much an open question.