Warner Bros. Television and miniseries maven Suzanne dePasse (Lonesome Dove) are teaming up on a four-hour network TV miniseries on baseball’s Negro Leagues, targeted for fall 2006.
With Major League Baseball closed to blacks, their stars had to play in segregated leagues in the 1920’s, 30’s and most of the 1940’s.
A driving force behind the TV project is Dick Robertson, president of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, who was pitched the story by a friend in the form of a "white paper" on the leagues by Kansas State University President and Negro Leagues fan Jon Wefald.
Robertson says he gets lots of such proposals in his job, most of which are politely deflected, but that this one struck an immediate chord. "This one isn’t about money," said Robertson. DePasse was a natural partner, since Lonesome Dove is Robertson's all-time favorite mini-series.
The Negro Leagues story, he says, combines baseball and the struggle for racial equality and Hollywood. (With no other pro baseball on the West Coast at the time, the leagues were a star favorite in the town’s golden age.)
Robertson said that when Wefald first asked to meet with him to talk about the project, Wefald suggested Manhattan. "Great," said Robertson, "I’m there a lot." Turns out Wefald meant Manhattan, Kan. Manhattan, Kan., it was, and Robertson fell in love with the project, obvious from the passion with which he spoke about it to B&C. A trip to the Negro Leagues museum in Kansas City only sealed the deal.
Robertson says a blue-chip advertiser has been lined up as presenting sponsor for the project, pending a commitment from one of the networks—they have not yet begun selling it. Warner Bros. TV and DePasse will deficit finance the film, which could cost $15 million.
Rather than a story of baseball, says Robertson, the movie will use baseball to tell the story of the separate but unequal African American baseball stars who did not let prejudice ruin their lives or their love for the game. It will be a story about baseball’s, and all of America’s, struggle to break color barriers.
Robertson says they are looking to cast some of todays young rappers-turned-actors to play Negro League stars like Satchel Page and Josh Gibson, but they expect real-life greats Buck O’Neil (age 92) and Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe (103) to make on-screen appearances.