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Q: I seem to remember a TV version of Ernest Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises" book. What can you tell me about it, and why don't people make shows like that anymore?

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Author: 
Adam Thomlison / TV Media

One thing I can tell you about NBC's miniseries adaptation of "The Sun Also Rises" is, according to one of the executives behind it, it is the reason why people don't make shows like it anymore.

In a surprisingly frank interview with the New York Times a few days after the miniseries aired in December 1984, Susan Baerwald, vice-president of miniseries at NBC, said, "Would I be reluctant to do another literary adaptation? At the moment, you bet."

The four-hour period drama, shot on location in Spain where the novel is set, was an expensive flop. However, Baerwald didn't blame the production itself -- basically, she blamed the whole idea.

"I don't think anything we did could have made a difference. The audience didn't come in and then leave. They didn't say, 'Gee, I wanted to see this and isn't it awful.' It's a clear sign there isn't an audience for this kind of program in our commercial television viewership."

It's clear that networks have taken this view more to heart over the years -- miniseries and lush literary adaptations have become fewer and farther between in the years since.

But they were quite popular at the time. "The Sun Also Rises" featured Jane Seymour ("Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman") in the female lead role, and one article pointed out that she turned down five other similar offers to do this one, calling her "the Queen of the Miniseries."

It also featured Hart Bochner ("The Starter Wife"), a miniseries veteran himself, and Robert Carradine ("Lizzie McGuire"), a member of the great Carradine acting family. In a bit of casting that seems stranger now than it did at the time, it also featured "Star Trek" legend Leonard Nimoy in a smaller role as a generous Greek aristocrat and bon vivant who briefly joins the weeks-long European party that is the essential context of the story.

 

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