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NBC's Johnny Carson Miniseries Hinges on Family's Blessing

NBC Johnny Carson - H 2013
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Fresh from controversy around the Hillary Clinton miniseries, now on hold, NBC Entertainment chair Bob Greenblatt promises: "We're not going to do this without the family."

This story first appeared in the Oct. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. 

Could NBC have another Hillary on its hands?

The network revealed Sept. 19 that it had secured rights to writer Bill Zehme's long-gestating book Carson the Magnificent and will develop the Johnny Carson biography as a miniseries. Random House announced Zehme's book, based on his celebrated 2002 Esquire profile of the legendary Tonight Show host, shortly after Carson's death in January 2005, with an eye toward a release that November.

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It since has been postponed multiple times and is not in the publisher's immediate plans -- which could pose a problem if NBC wants to work with the Carson family on the mini. "My problem with this is, the book isn't done," Jeff Sotzing, Carson's nephew and a producer who runs the Johnny Carson Entertainment Group, tells THR. Sotzing says that he knew there was a project in the works at NBC but was surprised by the network's optioning of Zehme's book and wasn't told about it before the announcement.

"I don't know what Bill has written, and I need to see the finished product," adds Sotzing. "Bill has been working on it for a long time, and I've tried to help him with his facts and make sure that it's accurate, but I don't know the whole tone of the book. I told the network that I really need to see what is going to be written before I can chime in whether or not I'm going to be involved."

NBC, which rankled the Clintons (and Republicans) by announcing a Hillary Clinton miniseries in July before telling the family, is optimistic that it can work with the Carsons. "We're not going to do this without the family, so hopefully we'll all figure it out together," NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt tells THR. "It's another one of those things that is far off because the book isn't even finished yet. I don't want to do anything that the family isn't on board for."

STORY: NBC Developing Johnny Carson Miniseries

Meanwhile, NBC soon could find itself beaten to a Carson project by another network -- or a feature film producer. WME is shopping rights to Johnny Carson, a firsthand account of the late-night king's personal and professional tales by his longtime attorney Henry Bushkin, and that source material comes with a release date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is publishing the book Oct. 15.