The biggest challenge facing any TV producer wanting to dramatize the ongoing soap opera in the House of Windsor isn’t lining up authentic-looking locations or suitable actors who can glue prosthetic devices behind their ears to look more like the Prince of Wales: It’s keeping up with the scandal-a-minute headlines. The second-biggest challenge is keeping up with the competition.
NBC, which plans a two-part, four-hour miniseries early next spring, starring Serena Scott Thomas and David Threlfall and based on Andrew Morton’s best-selling Diana: Her True Story, jumped in first on Sept. 28 with Fergie & Andy: Behind the Palace Doors, a thumping go at the Duke and Duchess of York that required last-minute updating when the real Fergie was photographed feeding her toes to extremely trusted financial adviser John Bryan.
Now comes CBS with The Women of Windsor, a three-hour drama airing Sunday, Oct. 25 (unless a seventh game of the World Series bumps the airdate a week). Shot in Toronto and starring newcomers Nicola Formby (as the Princess of Wales) and Sally Anne Law (as her sister-in-law), the script originally focused on the Yorks but shifted its gaze midproduction to include more about Charles and Diana as Di’s palace troubles stole the spotlight. The plot forwards Fergie’s saga up until her friendship with Texas tycoon Steve Wyatt but ends before her life with Bryan. ”This is a biographical drama about the differences between these two women and where they find themselves in history,” says executive producer Stu Samuels, ”and how Diana is much more obliged to respect the sweep of history than is Fergie.”
ABC, meanwhile, claims to own the high road with Charles and Diana: Unhappily Ever After?, a two-hour special that executive producer Larry Sanitsky says, ”uses strict docudrama standards” to examine the fractured fairy-tale marriage. It stars Roger Rees (Cheers) and Catherine Oxenberg — herself the daughter of a Yugoslav princess — whose career was launched 10 years ago when she played a happier princess in The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana. (Oxenberg, who has experienced eating disorders similar to those of Di, states cheerily, ”I’m not co-dependent on (Diana)!” while Rees claims ”deep affection” for his Charles, seeing in the would-be king ”a wonderfully domestic man” who is ”ill-equipped to face the problems he’s given.”)
But scheduling has turned out to be a royal pain. In a Di-hard battle for ratings, both ABC and CBS originally slated their dramas for the same night — until ABC blinked last week: The airdate has now been postponed indefinitely ”to allow for more postproduction time,” claims a network spokesman.
What’s a loyal royalist to do? Perhaps cool your heels until the next network palace bulletin is posted. And keep scanning the headlines.