REVIEW: THE NEW ADDAMS FAMILY (1998-1999)

MAIN CAST

Glenn Taranto (Crash 2004)
Ellie Harvie (The Cabin In The Woods)
Brody Smith (Rat Race)
Nicole Fugere (Cosas Que Nunca Te Dije)
Betty Phillips (2012)
Michael Roberds (Elf)
John DeSantis (Little Man)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST STARS

Monika Schnarre (Andromeda)
Gabrielle Miller (Highlander: The Series)
David Lewis (Man of Steel)
John Astin (The Frighteners)
Jennifer Copping (Slither)
Samantha Ferris (Along Came A Spider)
Jessica Harmon (Izombie)
Diane Delano (Jeepers Creepers 2)
Keegan Connor Tracy (Bates Motel)
David Palffy (Stargate SG.1)
Richard Ian Cox (Ghost Rider)
April Telek (Walking Tall)
Brendan Fehr (Roswell)
Morgan Fairchild (Chuck)
Mike Dopud (Stargate Universe)
Courtnay J. Stevens (Ripper)
Christopher Shyer (V)

The 1991 film The Addams Family had distinguished performers Angelica Huston and Raul Julia, and took over $100,000,000 at the box office. Both this film and its 1993 sequel, Addams Family Values, were based heavily on Addams’ original cartoons, and introduced a whole new generation of fans to the Addamses. A script for another sequel had already been prepared before the sudden 1994 death of Raul Julia ended plans for a third movie. Despite the apparent end of the film franchise, rumours of a return to the small screen persisted. In the meantime, original Gomez John Astin loaned his vocal talents to an Emmy award winning 1992 animated series, which lasted for two seasons. In 1998, the Fox empire negotiated the acquisition of the US Family Channel, which wud be re-launched in the fall under the Fox banner, with a large number of new original programmes and specials, produced in partnership with Saban International. Saban had established themselves as leaders in the field of economical children’s television throughout the 1990s. A number of original TV movies were to be produced for airing on the channel, with prior releases on the sell-through home video market. Among the initial raft of titles announced was Addams Family Reunion, which would star Tim Curry and Daryl Hannah. Produced hastily in California in the early months of 1999, it debuted on Home Video in the fall to almost unanimous derision.

However, before production on the new film wrapped, Saban and Fox Family Channel announced that a 65-episode series of The New Addams Family would debut as part of the new line-up. The new series was to be a joint effort between Saban and Shavick Entertainment. The series, which would “mix characters from both the classic series and recent films”, was to be produced in Vancouver at a cost of $35 million and represented a near unprecedented advance commitment. Filming in British Columbia, with its generous tax incentives, not to mention a cast of relative unknowns, it was hoped that the series could be produced economically to a high standard. As a further budgetary measure, many of the specialist props, costumes and settings from Reunion were put to use in the new episodes.

With budget and the Vancouver location immediately precluding the participation of much of the Addams Family Reunion troupe, it would be a largely new cast which would front the new series. The new cast was assembled mostly from Canadian talent, with the exceptions of Nicole Fugere, who would reprise her role of Wednesday from Reunion and Glenn Taranto, a last-minute placement in the role of Gomez, cast after the initial choice proved unsuitable.

Originally, the producers had envisaged a Gomez more in line with the Hispanic silhouette Raul Julia embodied on the big screen. With this in mind, Frank Roman was initially cast in the role, beating out Glenn Taranto, who had offered an audition performance based on John Astin’s interpretation. However, once rehearsals were underway, it became clear that the tone of the episodes owed more to the series of old than the films, convincing the producers to reconsider their decision, awarding the role to Taranto. The actor had kept a signed photograph of the original Gomez, John Astin, in his possession for a number of years, and felt a special affinity for the role; over the years, a number of people had commented on his physical and vocal similarity to Astin.

Award-winning comedienne Ellie Harvie would play Morticia, along with Michael Roberds as Uncle Fester. Veteran performer Betty Phillips would play the wizened Grandmama Addams, whilst newcomers John DeSantis, Brody Smith and Steven Fox would essay the roles of Lurch, Pugsley and Thing, respectively. Production on the new episodes began in earnest in the Spring of 1998.

As it emerged, the new series owed much of its style and tone to the Addamses of the small-screen, and a large number of the original television scripts were adapted and revised as the basis for new episodes. This task fell largely to the show’s Executive Consultant, Peggy Nicol and her successors Arnold Rudnik and Rich Hosek. The remade episodes were generally heavily restructured and rewritten, often with only the barest bones of the originals retained.  The Fox Family Channel intended to use the established Addams format as the ballast for its re-launch, with stripped broadcasts throughout weekday evenings. With a mammoth episode count required in time for the October launch-date, the new cast would shoot at a frantic pace, with an average of only three filming days devoted to each episode.

A number of large regular sets were built in the studio to represent the Addams abode. Budgets and time precluded the building of an exterior to the mansion, which was instead realised with computer animation. A small exterior backlot set housed the gateway to the mansion, allowing for rare outside excursions. Like the original series, location shoots would be few and far between. With rapid production imperative, the crew often worked 14-hour days. Make-up alone could last as long as 90-minutes at a time. However, despite the highly demanding working conditions, the cast members generally relished their roles. Harvie, Taranto and Roberds based their performances heavily on their sixties counterparts, having watched the original show as children. Between them, they gradually brought their own broader interpretations to their roles, adding their own comic style.

An early seal of approval was found in the form of an inspired guest appearance by original Gomez, John Astin, in the role of Great Grandpapa Addams. Both Astin and the regular cast enjoyed the experience immensely, as Ellie Harvie recalled: “There was one scene where I was speaking French and he runs in and says, ‘Tish, that’s French!’ and starts kissing my arm and then Gomez walks in and says, ‘Grandpapa, what are you doing?’ There was a second there when he was kissing my arm and I thought, ‘This is too weird. I’m Morticia’!” Astin reprised Great Grandpapa for a further two episodes of the series. The New Addams Family premiered on the Fox Family Channel on October 19th 1998, following a huge publicity drive. Fox Family used the series as the cornerstone for their 13 Days of Halloween special, and followed soon after with The Addams Family Scareathon, a day of stripped repeats linked with specially filmed promotional spots by the characters.

In print, posters advertising the show appeared throughout the New York Subway system whilst TV-Guide magazine featured prominent advertisements for the show. A number of items were produced purely for promotional purposes. These included engraved cigar boxes, complete with a preview videotape, New Addams Family picture frames (filled with plastic bugs and bones) along with t-shirts, rucksacks and other sundries.

Concurrently, Cool-Whip dessert topping was showcasing a major promotion for Addams Family Reunion. The network aired huge numbers of specially shot promotional spots, whilst the characters themselves were featured as part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade. Critical reaction was conservative, but generally positive.

Fox Family’s massive publicity drive paid off. In a press release issued shortly after the premiere, the network reported that: “Highlighting the prime time line-up was the debut episode of The New Addams Family, the highest-rated first-run series in Fox Family Channel history. Addams proved a particularly strong attraction to Kids 6-11, with the debut delivering a Fox Family Channel prime time series record 2.04 rating in that demographic. Having excelled as part of the Fox Family Channel’s re-launch, The New Addams Family was to prove a surprisingly short-lived revival, producing only one episode more than its television parent.

Sadly, the promising viewing figures and audience reaction were not enough to ensure a second number of episodes, and with its 65th episode, Death Visits the Addams Family, the new series bade farewell to its new-found fan base. Reportedly, during the final weeks of production an abortive proposal was made for a straight-to-video movie sequel. Ultimately, the motivations behind the cancellation are numerous, and neither Shavick nor Fox Family Channel have ever issued an official statement regarding it. However, certain facts and comments from production alumni do go some way to explaining the decision. For the network, it would seem that any interest in continuing beyond their contracted quota was minimal, as their huge order of episodes gave them a sufficient number of shows to exploit the series with its existing library. With large numbers of shows readily available, there was no immediate incentive for them to produce further episodes. The cast and crew had been engaged on fixed-rate contracts, which expired at the end of production. Having forfeited their rights to valuable residual payments for the series, it was inconceivable that they would agree to such frugal terms for a second run. While the news was disappointing to viewers, in fairness, the show’s production team had completed a quota of episodes far in excess of the annual 25 of most modern sitcom productions.

The disappointment of the cast and crew at the premature and abrupt nature of the cancellation was seemingly vindicated during the 2000 Leo Awards, where The New Addams Family retrospectively won eight awards out of a nominated nine

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