Dangerously Clooney

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Film star options book by Professor David Bianculli for movie.

David Bianculli is optimistic. He's hopeful, but not expectant, joyful but reserved by this most unexpected bit of news at the outset of the holiday season:

GEORGE CLOONEY HAS OPTIONED HIS BOOK FOR A MOVIE!

Clooney, perhaps the biggest star in Hollywood, optioned Bianculli's 2009 book, Dangerously Funny, the Uncensored Story of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and may well make the big screen version of it.

Sitting in his Bozorth Hall office just before the holiday break, surrounded by DVD towers of TV classics like Get Smart!, Hawaii 5-O and Kojak, Bianculli was philosophical but realistic about what will happen next.

Though Clooney "optioned" the manuscript, there is no guarantee he will make a movie. His production company, Smokehouse Pictures, purchased exclusive rights (for an undisclosed amount) to create a screenplay and shoot a film based on Dangerously Funny but Bianculli said the stars really have to align to see the project through.

"The truth is, there are so many reasons why this won't be a movie," said Bianculli, an associate professor of TV and film history at Rowan. "Smokehouse won't go forward unless they can partner with a bigger studio (who would pay for production) in exchange for the rights to distribute it."

Which isn't to say it won't happen. Smokehouse has hired a screenwriter to develop a script and, once it is written, the process of hiring a director, talent, etc. could go forward, Bianculli said.

Bianculli, a television critic since 1977 (for the Ft. Lauderdale News [later The Sun-Sentinel], The Philadelphia Inquirer, The New York Post and The New York Daily News) remains the TV critic for National Public Radio's Fresh Air program and authors a popular web site called TV Worth Watching.

He became fascinated with the Smothers Brothers as a boy when their irreverent comedy show, swept up in and contributing to the counter-culture vibe of the 1960s, became a runaway hit. He was pained, like millions of fans, when the show was stricken from the airwaves after censors deemed it too risqué and provocative.

Bianculli spent 14 years researching and writing about the program, getting to know Tom and Dick Smothers, and dreamed, early on, that if anyone in Hollywood ever became interested in his book for a movie, it would be Clooney.

He uses Clooney's film Goodnight and Good Luck, the story of CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow's 1950s reporting on Senator Joseph McCarthy, as a lesson and believes Dangerously Funny, should it get made into a movie, could be a sequel of sorts to that film.

Whereas Goodnight and Good Luck explored McCarthy's obsession with Americans he thought might be Communists – and Murrow's obsession with exposing McCarthy – Bianculli's book examines the climate of censorship that existed in the 1960s, particularly with regard to the anti-authoritarian political comedy of the Smothers Brothers. Their show was a forerunner to modern political programming like The Daily Show and Real Time with Bill Maher and helped launch the careers of such legends as Steve Martin and Rob Reiner.

Bianculli noted that the Smothers Brothers show, which aired for just three seasons in the late 1960s, ran at a time when there was no cable or satellite television, the three main networks produced virtually all of the programming, and the Smothers Brothers had a bigger weekly audience than practically anything on TV today – including American Idol.

Bianculli believes his book could provide great material for a movie but if and when that happens is completely beyond his control.

"Will it get made into a movie? It's not really for me to say," Bianculli said. "The value for me is having people in Hollywood whose work I respect considering doing something based on the work I did."

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