September 9, 2014

From "Nine to Five" to "Grace and Frankie"

A few months ago, on a rainy Saturday afternoon, I was home channel surfing and I ended up watching a (relatively) modern classic movie on TV, which was the 1980 film "Nine to Five" starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Dabney Coleman and Dolly Parton.

I actually saw "Nine to Five" on the big screen at a movie theater back in the day.  I was only like 11 or 12 years old at the time, so maybe that gives you an idea of my true age!  I also saw "Nine to Five" on Broadway a few years ago, and was sorry to see that show had closed on Broadway, although I believe that show saw new life in touring the U.S. if I'm not mistaken, so it may have left Broadway, but the show is still around.


A Modern Classic Movie

The basic story of the film ("Nine to Five") was a work-related friendship that develops between three working women.  In 1980, when the film premiered, even though women were certainly no strangers to the workplace, they still tended to work primarily in administrative jobs (after all, they still used typewriters back then), and many women struggled with overtly chauvinist attitudes from fellow male employees and/or superiors in the workplace.  "Nine to Five" was about three women who worked in the office of a large American corporation known as Consolidated Industries.  It was a classic big corporation with offices around the country and around the world, as the script suggests.  The boss was Franklin Hart Jr. (played by Dabney Coleman) who was a chauvinistic, sleazebag boss (who hits on his female staff, makes them get coffee for him, has his administrative assistant spy in the restroom on his staff, and also embezzles money from his big employer, Consolidated Industries).

The original cast of "Nine to Five"
Newcomer Judy leaves the office when a colleague is fired for a seemingly minor infraction (discussing her salary), so Judy looks for her supervisor Violet at the neighborhood gin joint "Charley's", who is there commiserating with another Consolidated employee, Doralee.  The three spend the afternoon drinking cocktails and complaining about what a jerk their boss is.

Jane Fonda played Judy Bernley, a naive, new-to-the-employment world new-hire at Consolidated, and a recent divorcee whose husband left her for his secretary.  Violet Newstead (Lily Tomlin) is a widowed woman working to support her four children on her own who has worked for Consolidated for over 12 years.  She also deals with her oldest child, a 15-year-old boy, whom she catches with marijuana and confiscates the joint from him, but without thought, she keeps it in her purse.  Violet is the supervisor of a department at Consolidated, and she happens to be a longtime employee who knows more about what's going on than nearly anyone else at the company.  The other main character is Doralee Rhodes, a busty, bleached-blonde Southern belle who is Mr. Hart's personal secretary.  Mr. Hart is lying to his colleagues, claiming that he's been sleeping with Doralee (even though she's continued to say no to his advances, telling him that she's a married woman), consequently, the women in the office treat Doralee like a pariah because they think she's such a tramp for "banging the boss".

However, things change one day when Mr. Hart passes over Violet yet again for an important promotion, even though her ideas are good enough for him to pass one off as his own and take all the praise for it.  She protests to Hart that he passed her over for another promotion because she's a woman, and Hart bluntly tells her that the company would rather have a man in the position, so Violet becomes enraged, storming off on her own (to the bar across the street), but not before revealing to Doralee that her supposed "affair" with Mr. Hart is common knowledge around the office.  Doralee, who's been confused and upset about the way she's been treated by her co-workers, snaps and also rages at Hart, threatening to use her gun on him the next time he makes an indecent proposal.  Newcomer Judy witnesses a fellow secretary lose her job over a minor infraction and she, too, becomes enraged.

The three women storm out to a bar near the Consolidated office to drown their sorrows, and the three of them later return to Doralee's house and smoke the marijuana cigarette that Violet realizes is still in her purse, prompting each of them to have a detailed fantasy about how they'd kill Mr. Hart if they had the chance.  The meeting proves to be a bonding experience for the three women.  But things take a sudden bizarre turn the next day when each of the women's fantasies comes true in some way.

An Unexpected Hit Among Many Demographic Groups

“Nine to Five” was a box office hit not only with working women of the day, but as the producers later learned, several other demographic segments (notably teenagers and kids), each of whom liked the movie for different reasons.  One reason for the film's popularity with teens was the infamous "pot" scene, in which the 3 women share their fantasies for killing the boss, Mr. Hart.  In any event, the fantasy scene featured some really humorous examples of the women turning the tables on their "sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical" boss, Mr. Hart.

Although each of the women's fantasies for killing the boss are funny and integral to the story, I think Violet's proved to be one of the most memorable, as a fairy tale in which she's dressed like Snow White and when Mr. Hart demands that she get him coffee, in that scene, Violet is a live character surrounded by animated, Disney-esque animal characters who support her (one reason even kids liked the movies).  At the end of this sequence, after the boss is killed by Violet, the three women are heralded by all the employees of Consolidated, as their shackles fall off and they all are thankful for Violet's fairytale end to their miseries with Mr. Hart.

The trio had very good on-screen chemistry and audiences loved it, and the film grossed over $3.9 million in its opening weekend in the U.S. (and that was back in 1980), and the total domestic gross was over  $103.3 million, ending up as the 20th highest-grossing comedy film.  It also turned Dolly Parton into a movie star, as she ended up doing more films including “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”, “Rhinestone”, “Steel Magnolias” and more recently, “Joyful Noise” just to name a few.

The show also prompted Sherwood Schwartz (of “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Brady Bunch” fame) to produce a short-lived TV sitcom which began as a fill-in, but then ran for two more seasons on network television (I believe it ran for three seasons in total on ABC, see http://ow.ly/ZWxYq for more).  Although none of the original cast members was in the TV series, Ms. Parton’s own sister (who shares a very strong family resemblance) Rachel Dennison played Doralee, with Rita Moreno playing Violet and Valerie Curtin playing Judy on the series.

TV (on Netflix!) Reunion for Tomlin and Fonda (No Word Yet on Parton)

Fans of the film have always asked for a reunion and given that all of the main cast members are still active in show business today, its not inconceivable.  As I understand it, the three female cast members remain friends, which isn't always the case.  But it looks like there might be a reunion of sorts on the small screen.  Consistent with the direction for television in recent years, this isn’t slated to air on network or cable television, but on Netflix.  Dolly Parton once commented that a new version of the film would probably need to be called 24/7 given the non-stop nature of work these days and the fact that people always have access to their email and phones thanks to mobile devices.  Periodically, talks of a new version of the film have come up, but apparently Fox hasn’t been been interested, although Ms. Parton acquired the rights to the screenplay when she prepared the Broadway musical version, so in theory, another studio could produce it if it was a good script.

But on March 19, 2014, Hollywood Reporter, Variety and various other entertainment industry trade publications reported that Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin would co-star in a 13-episode series to be called "Grace and Frankie" from Skydance Productions to air on Netflix.  Tomlin and Fonda will co-star in a 13-episode series called "Grace and Frankie" from Skydance Productions.  The basic idea for the new series is about two women whose lives are turned upside down when their two husbands announce they are in love with each other and plan to get married.

The two women, to their own dismay, find that their lives are permanently intertwined.  However, to their surprise, they also find they have each other and the series focuses on their relationship.  As I understand it, big Hollywood names including Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston (playing the husbands who plan to marry one another) will be featured in the program.  The comedy, which is scheduled to debut on May 8, 2015, is created and written by "Friends" co-creator Marta Kauffman and Howard J. Morris.

Although there is no word that Dolly Parton will appear in the series, its not inconceivable that she could potentially appear in a guest role if she was asked (and interested).  Although initially planned for just 13 episodes, depending on viewership, it’s also possible that more could be added at a later date.  Having the new series delivered online means there could be different production schedules that may prove more accommodating to actresses and actors who may not be up to a typical television series production schedule (television is more demanding than movies, for the record, Ms. Tomlin is 75 years old, and Ms. Fonda is 77 years old).  The new Tomlin/Fonda Netflix series sounds entertaining enough and certainly has a lot of big names in Hollywood involved, so time will soon tell.

For Netflix, “Grace and Frankie” joins a growing list of original programming including "The Killing", "Hemlock Grove", "Lilyhammer", the critically-acclaimed "Arrested Development" and the second season of "Orange Is the New Black" which has received a number of Emmy nominations.

"Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are among the funniest and most formidable actresses ever and it's an incredible privilege to give them the opportunity to run riot on Netflix," said Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos. "The show created for them by Marta and Howard is warm, very funny and anything but wholesome. We can't wait."

Author P.S., May 2015:  The show officially goes live on Netflix on Friday, May 8, 2015.  A trailer for the series is available on YouTube, which can be viewed at https://youtu.be/CDv6PRi1SgQ.  NPR's "Here & Now" program had an interview with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin which you may listen to at http://bit.ly/1Pv4PIt.  The Hollywood Reporter indicates (see http://thr.cm/bJCUXq) that Netflix has renewed the series for a second season which begins May 6, 2016 (and subsequently a third, and fourth season!), which is good news for viewers!  On August 13, 2015The Hollywood Reporter also indicated that Dolly Parton expressed interest in appearing on Grace and Frankie, so it seems likely to be a question of "when" rather than "if" the Nine to Five reunion takes place!

In the meantime, the original movie “Nine to Five” remains available on DVD as well as occasional television reruns (it was re-released on DVD a few years ago).  Its well worth a watch if you haven’t seen it already or want to catch up on old times.  Catch the original “Nine to Five” movie trailer and an excerpt from that movie below, or by visiting http://youtu.be/aOYDV3IIWFQ.

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