It was a dark time in our nation’s history; a period of despair, desperation and desolation. Two factions of the United States — who had long been enemies for quite some time — had finally threw all caution to the wind and declared war on each other: Regular TV and Cable TV. In the past, Regular TV had vied for the affection and attention of the American public against its rivals. Miniseries such as Shogun and V were produced and aired on network television in order to yank folks out of theaters, which was plagued with various adventure and science fiction epics at the time.
Generally, the whole miniseries concept was a no-brainer for the audiences they were aimed at. No longer did they have to dress up and shell out their hard-earned money at the cinemas: they could just sit comfortably at home in their underwear and watch a sprawling marathon spread itself out across the airwaves (the miniseries notion also worked well for the network execs that produced them, as you can well imagine). The downside for some viewers, though, was that these television serials were unable to display a lot of the violence moviegoers were growing accustomed to (to say nothing of the copious amounts of sex and language that were frequent in theatrical flicks).
When Cable TV reared its ugly kisser about, however, there was suddenly a new rival for Regular TV to contend against. Now, people could just sit at home in their underwear and take in all the violence (as well as sex and violence) they wanted to see. In the early ‘90s, several producers pitched the idea of a miniseries based on the Civil War to ABC. They were denied. But, as anyone who has ever witnessed a group of slightly-daunting grown men in uniforms whilst running around in rural fields and shooting at each other knows, there are Civil War buffs everywhere. Salvation for the aforementioned group of producers eventually materialized in the guise of Ted Turner.
In addition to his then-current obsessions of baseball, broadcasting and bastardizing black-and-white movies by adding a whole heap of pastel colors to them, media magnate Turner was also a huge fan of the Civil War. He had to be, after all: he was from the South. And, as we all know, people generally labeled as being “Southern” — whether they’re of actual Southern descent, belong to any number of strange and decidedly un-Christian-like church groups, or are simply just good ol’ fashioned trailer trash from the wrong side of the tracks — seem to have a big problem with acknowledging the fact that the Confederacy lost. Hence, we see them out in fields recreating battles that took place over two-hundred-and-fifty-years ago.
With Ted Turner’s anxious approval in play, the producers of Gettysburg (1993) set about bringing their epic television costume piece — based on the novel The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara — to life for the small screen. The story, which relayed a dramatized version of the Battle of Gettysburg, afforded many a struggling actor with the enviable opportunity to don ridiculously large, phony facial hair appliances. In addition to allowing the actors with the chance to ward off small children, members of the opposite sex and several types of dangerous predators from the animal kingdom on account of the massively-sheer goofiness dynamic alone, these superfluous and extraneous coats of fuzz also added a touch of realism to the characters their host organisms were portraying.
They also kept ‘em damn warm during those cold Pennsylvania nights during location shooting. Yup, they even shot on location for this one: something many miniseries usually skipped on doing due to budgetary restraints. But, in the case of Gettysburg, budgetary restraints were not an issue. Turner is said to have invested a whopping twenty-five million Yankee dollars into the project: something quite unheard of for a miniseries. He even distributed the completed project (which ran well over 4 hours altogether) as a theatrical film in a couple hundred cinemas across the United States under his then-new company, Turner Pictures.