Christy Grosz is an Awardsline Contributor
The story of two 1950s researchers breaking ground in the field of human sexuality sounds like a natural for late-night cable TV, but Masters of Sex is much more than its title might suggest. The Showtime series—based on Thomas Maier’s 2009 book of the same name—follows the professional and personal entanglements of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, whose more than 30-year partnership resulted in bestselling books and a research institute that bears their names. Despite their success, series creator Michelle Ashford says their personal connection is what makes them perfect for a drama. “It is without a doubt one of the most complicated relationships I’ve ever come across,” she says.
Awardsline: When did you learn about Masters and Johnson enough to know they would make a good TV show?
Michelle Ashford: I had been friends with (producer) Sarah Timberman for many years, and we were looking around for a pilot. She saw in The New York Times a review of Thomas Maier’s book and said, “I think we should look at this book. This sounds really interesting.” Up to that point, I knew (Masters and Johnson) existed, I knew they were famous, I knew (they) had something to do with sex. Then I read the book. It was news as to what was really going on in that relationship and the enormous impact they had. So we optioned the book. A ton of our material is based on (it). But the reason this happened was because (Timberman) has known (Showtime president) David Nevins for many years. She saw him in an airport, and she had the book in her purse and just handed it to him and said, “Michelle and I are thinking of doing this. What do you think?” We had talked to HBO, we also talked to FX, but David immediately read it, immediately got it, (and) said, “I see this completely.”
Awardsline: How much of the personal interactions did you have to create to tell the right story?
Ashford: Well, Tom’s book is very thorough, and it’s filled with a lot of fact. And he did spend many hours with Virginia Johnson and tried to glean her feelings about things. That being said, Masters was dead, and there are a lot of gaps (about) the emotional substance of what was going on, which is good for us because it leaves us some room to say what was really happening. We can explore all the different variations of their love affair and their professional relationship. Read More »
Showtime has greenlighted three pilots: Andrew Gurland’s docu-comedy Gurland on Gurland, Michelle Ashford’s drama Masters Of Sex and Ann Biderman’s dramedy Ray Donovan. This marks the second round of pilot orders for Showtime’s new entertainment president David Nevins. The first one included drama Homeland and comedy House of Lies, both of which went to series.
Gurland on Gurland is a first-person documentary comedy written, directed and starring filmmaker Andrew Gurland (The Last Exorcism, The Virginity Hit), which reflects his real family life and the challenges he faces pursuing the next phase of his career. The pilot hails from CBS TV Studios, with Gurland, managed by Principato-Young, and studio-based Glenn Gordon Caron executive producing. This marks the first Showtime pilot from the cable division of sibling studio CBS TV Studios. It was developed by the division’s former head Bela Bajaria, who recently departed to run Universal Media Studios. On the broadcast side, Medium creator Caron just sold a drama project to CBS executive produced by James Mangold and Cathy Konrad.
Masters of Sex, from Sony Pictures TV, is an adaptation of Thomas Maier’s book Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love and chronicles the lives and the intriguing, unusual relationship between Masters and Johnson, the pioneers into the science of human sexuality whose research touched off the sexual revolution. Ashford wrote the script and is executive producing with Timberman/Beverly Prods’ Sarah Timberman and Carl Beverly, who set up the project while at Sony TV. (The company, which has three series on the air — FX’s Justified and CBS’ upcoming Unforgettable and A Gifted Man — moved to CBS Studios last summer.) Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: After being dormant for the past 2 years, the Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay-produced drama project for HBO Cocaine Cowboys is shifting into high gear with a new writer. Michelle Ashford (The Pacific) has been tapped to write a new pilot script for the potential drama series inspired by Billy Corben’s 2006 documentary Cocaine Cowboys, about the rise of the cocaine trade and the resulting crime epidemic that swept Miami in the 1970s and 1980s. The HBO project, from Jerry Bruckheimer Television and Warner Bros. Television, will not feature characters from the documentary but will borrow from its portrayal of the events of the illegal drug trade in Miami during that time frame. Corben and Alfred Spellman, partners in rakontur, which produced the documentary, are executive producing the HBO drama with Bruckheimer, Bay and Jonathan Littman. KristieAnne Reed is co-executive producing.
Bruckheimer and Bay, who have worked together on such feature blockbusters as Bad Boys, Armageddon and The Rock, originally set up Cocaine Cowboys at HBO in the spring of 2008. In December of that year, Cold Case creator Meredith Stiehm was brought in as a writer. For the project’s second incarnation, CAA-repped Ashford will write a brand new script.
This is Ashford’s fourth HBO gig in the past couple of years. She also wrote for the pay cable network’s Emmy-winning … Read More »