The long and winding 12 Miles of Bad Road
03/18/08 02:47 PM
By ED BARK
12 Miles of Bad Road indeed. It's no particular surprise to Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth that HBO leaked word Monday night of its decision not to air their broad but often very funny series about a Dallas realtor and her dysfunctional brood.
They'd been getting that sinking feeling for weeks, but thought that an eleventh hour deal might still be made. Then Carolyn Strauss, the show's principal remaining champion, resigned Monday as HBO's entertainment president. And that was the end of 12 Miles, too.
"We are trying to move the show (to another network), and believe we have a fairly good shot," Thomason said in an email Tuesday. "We will know more tomorrow."
Thomason initiated communication with unclebarky.com last month, expressing deep concern that HBO appeared ready to bail on 12 Miles after deeming it "not sophisticated enough" for the premium network's core audience. Six of the 10 episodes had been completed before last fall's writers' strike. But HBO's new regime of co-presidents Richard Plepler and Michael Lombardo were not fans, said Thomason, whose wife, Linda Bloodworth (Designing Women, Evening Shade, Emeril), wrote all of the scripts.
Those six episodes, mostly filmed in L.A. with some Dallas exteriors, were sent to unclebarky.com with the understanding that nothing would be publicized while a deal with HBO remained possible.
Thomason, Bloodworth and principal star Lily Tomlin subsequently emailed a letter to unclebarky.com that also was meant to be forwarded to other TV critics along with the six completed episodes of 12 Miles. But they then retreated from that strategy, asking that nothing be written while, in Thomason's words, "we try to get the horse in the barn."
If that still happens, it will be a barn other than HBO's. "Sorry we sat on it so long," Thomason said Tuesday after HBO leaked that news.
I've seen the first two episodes of 12 Miles, which is none too subtle about skewering Dallas' big-egoed elite. Not that subtlety would work under these circumstances.
Tomlin plays Amelia Shakespeare, founding mother of the Amelia Select realty company. In the series' opening scene, Amelia and her second-in-command, C.Z. Shakespeare (Mary Kay Place), are in a chopper showing off high-priced spreads to a new Dallas Cowboys' running back named Keyshawn Diamond (Texas Battle).
Meanwhile, at ground level, Amelia's son, Jerry (Gary Cole), is trying but failing to control the spending habits of his bible-loving wife, whose principal charities are whatever Oprah Winfery says they should be. Jerry regularly seeks respites in the arms of a busty mattress saleswoman who's still getting chemo for her cancer.
The oldest Shakespeare daughter is estranged from her husband. But they still live in the same house, with his imperial fiancee, Montserrat, occupying a separate wing. Both still dote on their high-strung teenage daughter, alternately described as "mentally disabled" or "retarded." She still desperately wants to be a Dallas deb.
The youngest Shakespeare daughter, a drunk, lives in a gaudy trailer home parked on various Shakespeare properties. Eat your hearts out, Ewings. You're the Waltons compared to this.
However this all sounds on paper is not how it plays on-screen. Bloodworth still knows how to write pointed, bawdy dialogue that's often a hoot and a holler. And she's having a grand time here without necessarily going irredeemably over the top. Dallas probably wouldn't know what to do with pastel brush strokes anyway. This is, after all, the city of Jerry Jones (an unseen phone caller in the first episode), Mark Cuban, Mary Kay Ash and Ross Perot.
Here's how Bloodworth, her husband and Tomlin see the city and the state in that aforementioned and heretofore unpublicized SOS letter:
"Certainly a serial, hour-long comedy about Texas is a departure for HBO. Nevertheless, it was designed to do what that cable channel has always done best -- provide an authentic, heretofore unseen look at a private, insular world -- in this case another large American family immersed in an alien culture.
"12 Miles represents the seemingly broad, but heavily researched and authentic world of Dallas billionaires, who think nothing of paying a million dollars for a Hannah Montana appearance at a child's birthday party, dispatching a private jet to England to deliver dry rub barbecue to Prince Charles or giving a trip to the moon as a wedding present.
"Knowing HBO has never done a series featuring the South or Texas, we are very appreciate of the $25 million dollars they have already invested in 12 Miles. Although relations are cordial, we feel the current regime may be a little unsure of this new, inherited terrain . . . We think we know a hit show when see it -- having done the other kind. We are not asking HBO to champion or even promote our show. Just simply show it."
That train has left the station, but maybe Showtime will step in. If not, some of the language and nudity running through 12 Miles will have to be lost in any translation to an advertiser-supported network.
Count me among those who'd like to see the show go on in some form somewhere. 12 Miles of Bad Road ain't Shakespeare despite its first family's surname. But it's got a becomingly big, sassy bite to it -- which Dallas and the country at large should be able to handle.