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Priscilla Presley an Executive Producer : ABC Expected to Schedule Series on Elvis

Times Staff Writer

Elvis Presley is not dead.

Instead, the King is going to be a TV series on ABC in the fall, the network is expected to announce this week.

The network earlier this month gave the go-ahead for Priscilla Presley and two longtime friends of the singer, Rick Husky and Jerry Schilling, to shoot a pilot and three episodes of a half-hour dramatic series, “Elvis: Good Rockin,” they said this weekend.

Already, projects about Elvis have demonstrated their broad demographic appeal: “Elvis and Me,” based on the memoirs of Priscilla Presley, garnered the highest Nielsen ratings of any miniseries shown last year and became the 12th highest-rated miniseries ever.

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Presented in a “rockumentary” format, the New World Productions series will be based on true incidents from Presley’s early years from 1954 to 1957. Described as a “refreshingly unconventional” history of the roots of rock ‘n’ roll as well as the “quest for the American Dream,” the series is about “a talented but poor white kid from Memphis with a penchant for blues and gospel who took his guitar and band out on the road.”

No actor has been selected to play Presley so far. “Probably it’s going to be an unknown,” said Husky, executive producer of CBS’ “Tour of Duty.” He and Priscilla Presley will be co-executive producers of the “Elvis” series, while Schilling will co-produce.

The producers are more interested in finding a good actor than simply locating someone who physically resembles Presley. “The important thing is in getting the essence of the character,” Schilling explained. “He must be somebody who is on the edge, who is a lovable rebel and who has a sex appeal. We have our job cut out for us.”

The material on the early years is being drawn from the library of the singer’s estate as well as from the recollections of Priscilla Presley and members of his inner circle.

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“We’ll start at the period where he’s still struggling and then continue to the time when he became a success,” Husky noted. “The stories are endless.”

Each show will begin and end, he said, with reminisces from famous people and Presley friends.

Though Husky and Schilling say they had the idea for the series some time ago, they did not explore it seriously until just six months ago when Schilling, a former Presley confidant and employee and now creative affairs director for the Presley estate, approached Priscilla Presley.

“This is an opportunity to set the record straight about what it took for Elvis to become Elvis,” Schilling said. “Especially because there’s a whole generation now that only knows Elvis as that guy who wore those white jumpsuits.”

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After the executors of Presley’s state gave the project the green light, Priscilla Presley, Schilling and Husky approached New World, which had produced the “Elvis and Me” miniseries.

The producers don’t want to present Presley “as all bad or all good,” Schilling noted. “Instead, it’s fun and it’s uplifting and yet it’s got some history and some social situations about what was happening at the time as well as a lot of warm moments.”

The producers aren’t disappointed that ABC’s initial order is so small, especially after a feature film about Presley, “Heartbreak Hotel,” fell flat at box offices last year.

“There have been Elvis projects out there on television and in the theaters that have fallen flat, so there’s no guarantee,” Schilling said. “But a lot of those scripts were filled with just Hollywood stuff. The difference is that ours is going to be based on fact. Because the real story is better than the fictional story.”

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