Navajo detectives begin Americanization of Mystery!
Originally published in Current, Feb. 25, 2002
By Karen Everhart
Producers begin filming the first American-written work in Mystery! 's 22-year history this week near Phoenix: Skinwalkers, based on Tony Hillerman's novel of the same name. The film from Robert Redford's Wildwood Enterprises is the first from last year's coproduction deal between PBS and Britain's Carlton International.
PBS has been pushing the producers of the British series to develop U.S. material. If Skinwalkers has a strong run, PBS hopes to attract funding for more Hillerman stories and other American material, said John Wilson, PBS co-chief programmer. Hillerman has written 13 novels featuring Navajo tribal police detectives Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn.
"The Chee and Leaphorn mystery series has been a passion project of mine for 14 years," said Redford. "The chance to elevate the issues surrounding our Native American culture and to do it through the vehicle of solid entertainment is our hope and purpose. I am very happy to see Skinwalkers find its perfect home on PBS."
Chris Eyre (Smoke Signals) will direct from a script by Redford's son James (Ring of Fire). The executive producers are Robert Redford, Rebecca Eaton of WGBH, and Redford associate Michael Nozik.
Wes Studi ("Dances with Wolves") plays older detective Joe Leaphorn and Adam Beach ("Smoke Signals") is Jim Chee.
Mystery! returns to PBS's line-up with original British material in July, and WGBH has another summer season planned for 2003. Skinwalkers will air this fall as a two-hour stand-alone special.
PBS wants to evaluate both of these new scheduling strategies before charting the next steps for its popular mystery genre, said Wilson. "Our hope is that Mystery! as we know it and the American mysteries as we want to know them will continue as an asset for our stations' schedules."
In sad news for Mystery! fans, actor John Thaw, who starred in Carlton's Inspector Morse, died Feb. 21. Thaw's program was the longest-running detective series presented within Mystery!, with 64 episodes over 13 years. "We've lost a great talent and a great friend," said Eaton.
The blurb on Amazon.com:
" Navajo Tribal Police Officer Jim Chee and Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn investigate murders that lead them into spine-tingling and mystical world of Navajo witchcraft."
To Current's home page Earlier news: PBS pushes for more American stories on Mystery!, but the packagers are skeptical they can find the money, 2001. Earlier news: Public TV announces pact with Carlton, a major British broadcaster/producer, with Hillerman a major prospect. Outside links: Mystery! website, with page about Inspector Morse; the Hillerman page on Mystery.com; an interview with Hillerman on Bookpage.com; an unofficial Tony Hillerman website.
Web page posted March 6, 2002
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