Thursday, July 20, 2017

Comic Con Geekend: A Holiday Not So Special

It became a legendary disaster; 1978's Star Wars Holiday Special was a huge letdown after the stratospheric success of 1977's Star Wars. How could George Lucas attach his name to such a catastrophic mess? What was CBS thinking? How did this get made? The origins of the Star Wars Holiday Special can be traced back to the production of Star Wars itself.

It was no secret that George Lucas was sinking practically every penny he had into his bizarre space film that nobody at Twentieth Century Fox thought would be successful. Why would they sink money into a film they didn't understand? They wanted to continue their relationship with George Lucas, who was considered to be one of Hollywood's next big creative forces. If they had to lose some money on his ridiculous Star film, then so be it. They weren't completely crazy, however; they would limit their losses. The studio's tight purse strings forced Lucas to beat the bushes for any and all sources of cash. It was then that he approached CBS with a proposition.

He offered CBS the option to produce a special based on his upcoming film in exchange for some non-refundable upfront cash that he planned to use to produce his movie. Such a deal was not unheard of at the time. The networks then and now often write checks just to get first crack at an upcoming project or script. They may never produce anything from such an agreement, but at least they can tie up the option, keeping it out of another network's clutches and in their back pocket in case they end up with a hot property on their hands. CBS didn't fully understand what Star Wars was about, but for a couple hundred thousand dollars they could make sure that neither NBC nor ABC could get their hands on it. They agreed and quickly signed a deal with George Lucas.

It was a sign of CBS' non-confidence in the success of the film that they didn't choose to produce a special that could air alongside the film's premiere. If they had, the show probably would have been different from what ended up airing on TV. George Lucas had even forgotten about the contract he signed by the time the network approached him to get its special. He tried everything he could to get out of it; he had enough money by this time to return CBS' money plus a sizable bonus. CBS didn't want his money; it wanted its special. George Lucas reluctantly agreed, but he wanted no part of it. He instructed his organization to help CBS, but without bothering him. Thus began a series of events that led to the legendary debacle. The first viewing might have disappointed fans, but it was still a ratings bonanza for the network. George Lucas immediately wrote a huge check to ensure that the special would never air again and CBS' gained a huge return on its investment.