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Beauty and the Beast Remembered, Part 1

The CW has announced that a remake of the 1987-1990 TV series Beauty and the Beast is in development under the guidance of the original's creator, Ron Koslow, Without a Trace's Jennifer Levin and Brothers & Sisters' Sherri Cooper. Says TV Line, "The new version will not only modernize and CW-up the love story but also add a procedural twist." With this in mind, we turn the focus back to the original.
Beauty and the beast retro 4 The concept of Beauty and the Beast – and its tale of a cold and heartless man transformed into something hideous and cursed to remain that way unless he finds true love – has been enchanting audiences for nearly three centuries, ranging from the original 1740 Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve fairy tale through Jean Cocteau’s 1946 French film, Disney’s 1991 animated version and even this year’s Beastly. But none have had as unique a take as Koslow’s 1987-1990 television series.

That series owes its existence to the desire of then CBS entertainment president Kim Lemasters to see if the classic fairy tale could be updated for a modern audience. The challenge was to find someone capable of translating this notion into a premise that would connect with television viewers, which Lemasters ultimately found with motion picture writer/producer Ron Koslow. Koslow, whose screen credits included First Born and Into the Night, and who most recently co-created and executive produced CBS’ vampire P.I. series Moonlight, came up with a concept that would juxtapose the classic fairy tale upon a modern setting.

In the series pilot, assistant District Attorney Catherine Chandler is savagely beaten and slashed by a group of punks who have mistaken her for someone else. Left to die in Central Park, she is found by a noble lion-man named Vincent, who brings her to the underground community that lies beneath the streets of New York. As Catherine heals, a psychic connection is struck between them and that, in turn, transforms itself into an eternal love. The ensuing series chronicled that love as Vincent provided his own brand of aid to Catherine’s world, while she did what she could to help those Below. The couple loved as best they could in a world that would never understand them and censors who would never allow them to consummate their relationship.

Beauty and the beast retro 3 Said Koslow at the time of the show’s debut in 1987, “What we’ve tried to do is create a compelling, contemporary version of the original story, centering on a new mythic figure and interesting kind of urban hero. We also wanted to tell a classical love story in a contemporary context. Beauty and the Beast affords us the opportunity to do just that, given the insurmountable obstacles which Vincent and Catherine face. We now have a chance to explore this kind of romance on television, with all its impossibility and longing. The relationship between Catherine and Vincent will be continually challenged by the fact that Vincent will remain who he is—a perfect man; ironically, Catherine’s perfect soul mate—trapped in an imperfect body. The power of his character lies in the fact that he’s a survivor who accepts who he is, and continues to move forward.”

The vast underground realm, as portrayed on the series, was an extrapolation on reality. Beneath the streets of Manhattan are underground caverns, rivers and miles of tunnels, the original purpose of which was to serve as conduits for steam, water and electricity.

“Several years ago,” Koslow had said, “I read an article which described people who were living in the steam tunnels below the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan, who were getting their food from the dumpsters behind the hotel restaurant, and generally living off that which was disposed of in the world above. Since then, I have wanted to do a show which could incorporate the various textures of New York City, from the upper east side to the halls of power, the public institutions and, finally, this whole subterranean secret world Below the streets.”

And thus Beauty and the Beast was born, with Linda Hamilton (who had made great impact as Sarah Connor in James Cameron’s The Terminator) being signed to portray Catherine and Ron Perlman (who fanboys know and love from a wide variety of roles today, including Hellboy) as Vincent. The pilot was a unanimous success, though most people wondered where things would go as a series.

George-RR-Martin “That was certainly a one question I posed to Koslow when he first called me,” explains writer George R.R. Martin, who has just seen his Game of Thrones novels transformed into the HBO television series. “I could see from the pilot that there were ways to go that I thought were very interesting, and there were ways to go that were not very interesting. I think that there were certain elements from the network right at the beginning that regarded us as a hairy version of The Hulk, with the obligatory rescue at the end of the fourth act and that kind of thing. If we were going to be primarily an action/adventure show oriented toward children with an obligatory beast-out at the end of the second act, and a major rescue at the end of the fourth act, I really didn’t want to be involved with it. But from talking to Ron, it became clear that his ambitions for the show were very high and that he regarded it as adult-oriented drama, rather than formula action/adventure. That was one of the factors that changed my mind, and determined that I would take a crack at it. Then, once we were out there, determining which way to go was part of the challenge.”

There were, he adds, various stages in the development of the show. In the beginning, naturally, the network put the writers precisely in the direction that they didn’t want to go with formula action/adventure kind of scripts. “They were putting restrictions on us in the first season which we labored under that were kind of difficult,” he offers, “including the most irritating to me: they didn’t want to see any other people in the underworld. Initially, the network saw it as a cop show with a hairy hero who saved people at the end. I think there were always elements at the network that thought the tunnel people were kind of strange and didn’t quite know what to make of them. Of course from my background, the tunnel people were precisely the elements that interested me the most: that whole tunnel society, and the world down there, Vincent and his origins…the fantastic elements. Thankfully, we were finally able to break through when the ratings were strong enough and we earned a little freedom to do what we wanted. These battles are worth fighting, because sometimes you lose them for a while, but eventually the tide turns. In our case, that turn came in the middle of the first season where we were finally able to introduce the underground community in the way we wanted to.”

For producer Alex Gansa, the most exciting aspect of the show was developing its direction following the pilot. “That was the best time, because nobody had any idea what we were going to do, nobody knew what to expect,” he says. “It was the most excitingly creative time I’ve had in Hollywood, only because the show could have gone in any number of directions, most of which would have been horrible. The way it evolved was very exciting.”

Look for part two of this retrospective on Monday
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