With more than half the videotaping completed on WNET/13-New York's historical drama series, THE ADAMS CHRONICLES, the 13 hour-long dramas about the Adams family of Massachusetts are being completed on schedule, according to Virginia Kassel, series creator and project director, and Jac Venza, executive producer. Production, which began in late May, will conclude on September 15, a total of 13 broadcast hours in only 19 weeks. THE ADAMS CHRONICLES, made possible by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and Atlantic Richfield Company, will premiere in January on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) . THE ADAMS CHRONICLES is being underwritten by a $1 million outright grant and $3 million in grants and matching grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Of the $3 million amount, $1.5 million was received by NEH from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation on behalf of WNET/13. In addition to these $4 million in grants, Atlantic Richfield Company made a grant of $1.2 million directly to WNET/13 for the series' production. In providing support for THE ADAMS CHRONICLES, the National Endowment for the Humanities believes that the series can offer an increased perspective and appreciation of the nation's history to the American public -through the lives of one of its most influential families.
Leased facilities in former 20th Century-Fox Movietone News studios on New York City's West side, dubbed "Adams House, " headquarter the highly efficient and exhaustive rehearsal and videotaping schedule, mapped out earlier this year by Robert Costello, the series' coordinating producer. Under Costello's plan, the studio space is being utilized to its fullest capacity. A 5' x 7' multicolored production schedule hangs on the wall in Costello's office, with each different color standing for location, studio, weekend, and holiday tapings for each week for specific episodes.
The complexities of THE ADAMS CHRONICLES production schedule can be gleaned from the series' utilization of several different producers and directors. Nine different playwrights have written from one to three scripts each. Separate production teams work on different episodes so that while one or two episodes are being videotaped, others are in rehearsal or in preproduction. Two complete sound stages at "Adams House" add to the efficiency of production. While one stage is in use, the other is being prepared for the next day's shooting. Construction crews and scene painters in no way disturb the videotaping of any episodes.
Production designer Ed Wittstein and costume designer Alvin Colt share many responsibilities. Wittstein and his staff designed interiors or located actual sites for close to 250 different settings. As Wittstein puts it, "It's like doing three feature films back to back." The team must painstakingly research the proper period-look of rooms, windows, wall hangings, draperies, furniture, rugs, newspapers, letters, books -- anything the television eye will see.
Wittstein's staff scouted locations to lend authenticity to outdoor sequences or arranged to videotape inside historical buildings, giving the series a look that otherwise would have been impossible to duplicate in the studio. For Louis XVI 's gilt-laden court at Versailles, Wittstein's team arranged to use interiors of the famed Marble House in Newport, Rhode Island. Newport mansions were also used for rooms in England, France, Holland and St. Petersburg. Other actual locations used in episodes completed so far are streets in Providence, R.I. (for Boston) , a farmhouse in Foster, R.I . (for Braintree, Mass.) the William Floyd estate in Mastic, Long Island, N.Y. (for Quincy, Mass.), the recently restored Old Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol Building, Washington, D.C. , and Congress Hall in Philadelphia, Pa.
Costume designer Alvin Colt also engaged in copious research, with many of his designs based on existing portraits of various Adams family members. Costumes for all the principal actors in the series are designed and sewn especially for them -- but not "stage-style."
"Stage costumes are made to get in and out of very quickly, " says Colt. "But the eye of the television camera picks up every detail, so we're not permitted to use any modern conveniences like zippers, for instance. Most of our ladies have to be laced into their dresses, a slow process." Colt estimates that by the time the series is completed, he will have designed or coordinated over 3000 costumes -- 800 for extras alone. Since fashions change every 10-20 years, Colt and his staff researched the myriad changes in clothing styles over the 150 years of the series in America as well as abroad.
Casting director Jay Wolf and his assistant Lucille Cannon also combed th history books. Wolf selected actors with an eye not just to how they looked in existing portraits but to known personality traits as well. The tremendous task of locating the 800 period faces for extras alone fell to Mrs. Cannon. Depending on the area designated for ADAMS CHRONICLES location sequences, she will go and scout locally for the "right" look. Often, she visits unemployment lines, little theatre, or professional theatre groups, or she calls on friends and acquaintances to bring together different kinds of people. She deals extensively with all actors' unions looking for people who work in television and film.
THE ADAMS CHRONICLES has two separate teams of makeup artists and hair designers. They design wigs for British soldiers, rural Americans and members of the courts of England, France, Holland, and Russia, to name a few, observing the finer points of hair length and changes over the 150 years of the series . The makeup artists think nothing of putting in four hours on one man alone. Actor Robert Symonds was put through the grueling task of getting made up at 5 A.M. so that he would look exactly like Benjamin Franklin on camera at 9. George Grizzard, playing a youthful and middle-aged John Adams in the first six episodes, had to be made up to look 91 years old in the ninth episode -- a job that took almost five hours to complete. Hair designers think nothing of using old-fashioned curling irons in their work, to give the right look -- not too tight -- to the curls in both men's and women's wigs.
Happily, the old Fox studios provide ample room for the ADAMS CHRONICLES staff and crew, so that all the work can be housed in one building. A scene shop in the basement allows sets to be built and shipped only one freight elevator-flight upstairs to the studio floors. Space on the third floor permits actors who continue from one episode to another to rehearse with their directors on new episodes and then race downstairs to a studio to complete a "take" for an episode currently in production.
The nine different playwrights for THE ADAMS CHRONICLES are Roger 0. Hirson, Ian Hunter, Corinne Jacker, Millard Lampell, Anne Howard Bailey, Tad Mosel, Phillip Reisman, Jr., Sherman Yellen, and Sam Hall. The directors for the series include Paul Bogart, James Cellan-Jones, Fred Coe, Barry Davis, and Bill Glenn. The producers include Bogart, Cellan-Jones, Coe, Robert Costello, and
A partial cast listing, alphabetically, includes Wesley Addy (Andrew Jackson), John Beal (Charles Francis Adams), David Birney (John Quincy Adams, age 36-48), Peter Brandon (Henry Adams), W.B. Brydon (Samuel Adams), Nancy Coleman (Mrs. Charles Francis Adams), Leora Dana (Abigail Adams, age 44-73) William Daniels (John Quincy Adams, age 50-81), Curt Dawson (John Hancock), George Grizzard (John Adams), George Hearn (Henry Clay), Paul Hecht (Jay Gould), David Hooks (George Washington), John Houseman (Jeremiah Gridley), Christopher Lloyd (Tsar Alexander I), Lisa Lucas (Nabby Adams), Nancy Marchand (Mrs. Smith Abigail's mother), Gilmer McCormick (Mrs. Henry Adams), Stephen D. Newman (Abraham Lincoln), Pamela Payton-Wright (Mrs. John Quincy Adams), Nicholas Pryor (John Quincy Adams II), Charles Siebert (Charles Francis Adams II), Albert Stratton (Thomas Jefferson), Jeremiah Sullivan (Alexander Hamilton), Robert Symonds (Benjamin Franklin), Charles Tenney (Brooks Adams) , John Tillinger (King George III), and Kathryn Walker (Abigail Adams, age 1844).
All the episodes of THE ADAMS CHRONICLES are dramatized within the framework of historical events and the implications of those events on the public and private lives of the Adamses. The Adams Papers, a 300,000-page body of journals, diaries and letters by members of the Adams family, was bequeathed in trust to the Massachusetts Historical Society, whose president is Thomas Boylston Adams, a direct descendant of John and Abigail. Series consultants are editors of The Adams Papers, L.H. Butterfield, Editor in Chief, Marc Friedlaender, Editor and Mary-Jo Kline, Associate Editor.