The Hatfields & McCoys « Screenwriting from Iowa

“This successful life we’re livin’s got us feudin’Like the Hatfields and McCoys…”Luckenbach TexasLyrics by Waylon Jennings

The History Channel’s miniseries Hatfields & McCoys pulled in some big numbers in the last few days—more than 13 million viewers each night. as AP television writer David Bauder pointed out, “Those are huge numbers in the cable television world. No scripted series on the broadcast networks last week came close. By contrast, Fox’s series finale of “House” last week reached 8.7 million people.”

The famous family feud that occurred on the Kentucky/West Virginia border just after the Civil War wasn’t the safest bet for the History Channel but a nice vote of confidence for those interested in writing narrative drama. And maybe in the timeline of history as well as dramatically the Hatfields and the McCoys fall comfortably between the worlds of Shakespeare and the Real Housewives of Atlanta.

As I wrote in one of my very first posts (Everything I learned in Film School) it all comes down to conflict doesn’t it? (It also comes down to budgets. the History Channel’s version of the Hatfields & McCoys was filmed not in Kentucky or West Virginia—but in Romania). the mini-series was written by bill Kerby, Ted Mann and Ronald Parker.

I’m not sure how many times that family feud has been filmed as a feature or TV movie, but back in 1975 Jack Palance starred as Devil Anse Hatfield in The Hatfields and the McCoys, and next week the feature Bad Blood: the Hatfields and McCoys written and directed by Fred Olen Ray will be released. the earliest version depiction of the family feud appears to be the 1923 Buster Keaton film Our Hospitality. (Technically an Appalachian clash between the Canfields and McKay.)

Opening title card to our Hospitality: “Men of one family grew up killing men of another family for no other reason except that their fathers had done so.” Here’s the entire film on You Tube if you haven’t got your family feud quota in this week:

P.S. A couple of years ago there was talk of a Eric Roth script titled the Hatfields and the Mccoys that would star Brad Pitt and Robert Duvall (and a sound track by T-Bone Burnett). I don’t know if that film’s going to get made, but I don’t think we’ve seen the last of the Hatfields or the McCoys.

Scott W. Smith

The Hatfields & McCoys « Screenwriting from Iowa


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