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Oscar-Nominated Doc 'How to Survive a Plague' to Become ABC Miniseries (Exclusive)

Filmmaker David France is prepping a dramatic adaptation, which will delve into more of the personal stories characters in the film.

How to Survive a Plague
"How to Survive a Plague"

The Oscar-nominated documentary feature How to Survive a Plague is getting a miniseries treatment.

Mere days after the Academy Awards, ABC Studios has bought rights to David France’s film, which follows an improbable group of young people -- many of them HIV-positive young men -- with an eye toward a potential dramatic miniseries. Until now, ABC had not dabbled in miniseries for half a decade, when the Disney-owned network rolled out A Raisin in the Sun, starring Sean Combs, Phylicia Rashad and Audra McDonald.

STORY: 'How to Survive a Plague' Director David France Looks Back: 'All I See Are Ghosts'

France's widely acclaimed doc, which he co-wrote and directed, focuses on two coalitions -- ACT UP and Treatment Action Group (TAG) -- whose activism and innovation helped turn AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable condition. Despite having no scientific training, these activists infiltrated the pharmaceutical industry and helped identify promising new drugs, moving them from experimental trials to real-world patients in record time.

Ideally, the scripted adaptation, which is in its early days of development, will go broader and deeper. “We know we’d like it to be an extended story that’s not just about AIDS and what AIDS wrought but about this tremendous civil rights movement that grew from the ashes of AIDS and the dawn of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender movement,” France tells The Hollywood Reporter.

His producing partner Howard Gertler echoes that sentiment. "We’re excited about the opportunity to delve into more of the personal stories of the characters that you followed in the documentary," he says. "People got a sense from the doc that many of the activists were soldiers drafted into a war that perhaps they were not ready to fight but that they had trained themselves for, and we really want to show a wide audience how that happened."

France had been toying with the idea of a TV adaptation for more than a year, but at that time the miniseries genre was of little appeal to networks. But by the fall, with the commercial and critical success of History’s Hatfields & McCoys still top of mind and his Plague released theatrically, the mood had changed, and ABC was among a handful of outlets ready to entertain such conversations.

The producers believe that a miniseries is the ideal format for Plague because the tale lends itself to a storytelling structure with a beginning, middle and end. That ABC Studios would be the place to do so was a decision they suggest was easy: “ABC is the network of Roots,” says France, referencing the Emmy-winning landmark 1977 mini that traced the saga of free man-turned-slave Kunta Kinte through four generations. “For ABC, this is a continuation of a dialogue that they’ve had with their viewers and with history, and that to me was the most decisive and convincing fact in our discussion -- this idea that we can do that again and that we can be that for the gay community.”

Much like the film, the mini-series -- which will count France, Gertler and new addition John Lyons as executive producers -- will offer unfettered access to an array of never-before-seen footage from the 1980s and ’90s. "These activists may have had to train themselves for the battle, but they were incredibly media savvy and were constantly filming everything," explains Lyons. "So there's this treasure trove of this archival material, which we think can be cleverly introduced into the storytelling."

Email: Lacey.Rose@THR.com; Twitter: @LaceyVRose