On February 6, 1983, a nine year old version of the jaded and cynical scribe that is currently hammering out this article begged, cajoled and pleaded with his benevolent parents to allow him to stay up well past his bedtime so that he might watch an epic and sweeping television mini-series called The Winds of War. Within the course of two hours and some change, my narrow existence was forever changed, my little world completely cracked in half as I lapped up ABC’s and director Dan Curtis’ adaptation of Herman Wouk’s classic novel about an American Naval family swept up in the events leading up to the second World War. I was a confirmed fan and unapologetically so.
The generations-spanning television historical epics were all of the rage in the 1980s (and, in a diminished capacity, the beginning part of the 1990s) and they held an entire generation enthralled as they thrilled to the romantic drenched big-intimate stories: Holocaust, The Thorn Birds, The North and the South and, of course, The Winds of War and its sequel/follow-up, War and Remembrance. Too fine of a point cannot be put on how much a part of our cultural DNA these magnum opus productions were.
In an early morning announcement, it was revealed that Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane will be adapting and shepherding a new production of Herman Wouk’s classic novel The Winds of War as the first project in his $200 million deal with NBCUniversal. This announcement comes on the heels of the well-regarded funny man’s departure from longtime home studio at 20th Television. The new version will also be produced as a mini-series, just like the Robert Mitchum-Jan Michael Vincent ’83 effort, although this longtime Wouk acolyte cannot help but note the irony of a property so connected to ABC (which produced and aired the original and its sequel) finding new digs with the NBC folks. The ultimate outlet that broadcasts the finished project is still nebulous as Universal Content Productions shops it to cable networks along with streaming services.
Although details such as casting, filming locations and the like are still being ironed out, we do know that MacFarlane and scribe Seth Fisher will co-pen their new spin on the classic story as well as executive produce it. Fuzzy Door (a production arm operated by Seth MacFarlane) president Erica Higgins will also serve as an exec producer on the project.
In a statement, MacFarlane said that he “can’t think of a more exciting project with which to launch my creative partnership with UCP than Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War. I’ve been a devoted fan of Wouk’s WWII epic for decades, and its depiction of small-scale human endurance in the face of large-scale global upheaval has never been more relevant than it is today. In my very first meeting with Dawn Olmstead (the president of UCP), we connected over this project – I learned that she herself comes from a Naval family – and to bring it to fruition under her stewardship and that of her UCP team will be a perfect fit for all. We can’t wait to get started.”
The woman of the hour – Dawn Olmstead – had this to say about the impending Winds of War project: “We are thrilled to announce The Winds of War (and War and Remembrance) as the first of many projects we are developing with Fuzzy Door. This is an epic story of valor, perseverance, survival and family that will be retold through a current lens. I’m very excited about our partnership with Seth as he looks to expand his oeuvre in the next phase of his career.”
War and Remembrance is Wouk’s mamba jahamba of a sequel that closes the story began in The Winds of War and Olmstead’s mention of a future filming, too, of the second half of the story of the Henry family as they navigate through WWII is exciting and reveals the breadth and scope this production will have.
Unpacking a few things with this announcement: Seth MacFarlane truly looks to be expanding beyond the territory of his animation empire with the announcement of a Winds of War and War and Remembrance production and it will be intriguing to see the cast UCP can build up for what promises to be a long shoot. A bit of backseat driver advise: As an avid fan of the original Winds, might I suggest a back-to-back shoot for the first novel and it’s even more ambitious sequel? Many fans felt shortchanged when ABC, after a seven year gap between productions, filmed War and Remembrance without the services of some of the stellar cast from Winds such as Jan-Michael Vincent, Ali MacGraw and John Houseman. In these specific instances, the actors had either been locked into other projects by the time the sequel was ready to roll, had extenuating personal issues which precluded their involvement or had simply aged out of their roles by 1990. Don’t allow that to happen with this iteration: Find talented actors and lock them in with a solid contract and – most importantly – shoot these towering behemoths either back to back or with a very small window between the first and second half of the story.
The Winds of War was a bellwether for many people, both in and out of the entertainment industry. With any luck, this new version will pull off the same trick for a whole new crop of potential fans out there. The nine year old version of me will be watching and dreaming.