Why Paramount Did Not Refuse ‘The Offer’ of Series About Making of ‘The Godfather’

·4-min read

From the day Nicole Clemens took the reins of Paramount Television Studios in 2018, she fielded calls about whether “The Godfather” was available for development as a TV series.

The answer was always no. “The Godfather” — Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 masterpiece that begat 1974’s “The Godfather: Part II” and 1990’s “The Godfather: Part III” — is among the most valuable assets in the Paramount Pictures vault.

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Clemens couldn’t help thinking about all of those inquiries a year later when she took a general meeting with nonagenarian producer Albert S. Ruddy, whose quirky résumé ranges from “The Godfather” to “Hogan’s Heroes” to “Walker, Texas Ranger.” As he regaled her with tales of his transformation in the late 1960s from a computer programmer for Rand Corp. to Hollywood producer, she began to think that Ruddy’s story of breaking in as an outsider could be the POV for a series about the making of “The Godfather.” That concept became the 10-episode limited series “The Offer,” which bows April 28 on Paramount+.

“I thought we had this moment to do an event series that would honor the ‘Godfather’ legacy but not walk into the challenge of continuing it,” Clemens says. “You don’t want to be the person that messes up ‘The Godfather.’”

Clemens enlisted novelist and screenwriter Michael Tolkin to the world of the series. He spent many hours with Ruddy and returned with what Clemens calls “a perfect pitch.” When he finished talking them through his vision for the ensembler that became “The Offer,” Clemens and Ruddy applauded.

“You know it when you hear exactly what your best-case-scenario hope was,” she says.

“The Offer” is full of actors playing real-life figures in the “Godfather” saga, including Coppola, then-Paramount chief Robert Evans and stars Marlon Brando and Al Pacino. But the edict from the studio was that no scene from any “Godfather” movie would ever appear on screen in “The Offer.” “That feels like heresy,” Clemens says.

“The Offer” follows Ruddy’s quixotic effort to produce a Mafia family drama based on Mario Puzo’s bestselling 1969 novel. The series mixes Ruddy’s perspective with the backstories of how the key players were brought together — including the now well-known tale of how mob boss Joe Colombo pressured Ruddy and Coppola in 1971 during the production of the film. Ruddy’s version of the much-examined events around the making of the 1972 film has been criticized by one key player depicted in the film, Peter Bart, the former Paramount vice president and former Variety editor-in-chief, who is played by Josh Zuckerman in a recurring role.

For Tolkin, who earned an Oscar nomination for adapting his novel “The Player” into the 1992 inside-showbiz drama of the same name, the making of “The Godfather” became the backdrop for a story about underdogs and outsiders struggling to achieve their dreams. As Tolkin observes, all the major figures tied to the movie — including the then-struggling studio — were betting everything on its success.

“One of the things Al Ruddy told me that stood out to me was that when he was making ‘The Godfather,’ every day was the worst day of his life,” Tolkin says. “I thought that was a great universal theme that everyone can relate to.”

Tolkin penned the scripts for the first two episodes of “The Offer.” The studio paired him with showrunner Nikki Toscano for the rest and for production under difficult COVID-lockdown conditions. They also had to scramble in early 2021 when scandal enveloped actor Armie Hammer, who had been cast as Ruddy but was quickly replaced by Miles Teller. Teller proved a perfect fit for the demands of the character.

“We needed to find somebody who had an Everyman quality to him yet was credible as a guy who could go toe-to-toe with a mob boss. I think Miles encompasses that duality as a person and as an actor,” Toscano says. “Ruddy is so unique as a character because he’s an underdog, an outsider who didn’t grow up in Hollywood. He doesn’t know the rules and he doesn’t care about the rules. Miles was able to sell that in such a way that you find yourself rooting for him on a certain level of wish-fulfillment.”

More than anything, Clemens felt immense pressure to make the series as good as it could be after going out on a limb with Paramount’s precious IP.

“It’s such a narrow bull’s-eye to hit,” she says. “I turned myself into something of a maniac with the pressure.”

In the end, “The Offer” found its footing as a backstage drama that aims to put a spotlight on how the cannoli is crafted in Hollywood.

“It’s really a love letter to the reality of how hard it is to get a movie made,” Tolkin says.

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