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Yes, Master? New draft, hope for an 'I Dream of Jeannie' movie

April 20, 2010 |  7:48 pm

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EXCLUSIVE: Among all the remakes of classic TV shows out there, few have seen more attempts to reach the big screen than "I Dream of Jeannie."

A number of years ago -- almost all the way back, it seems, to the birth of Jeannie herself -- there was a script by "National Treasure" writers Cormac and Marianne Wibberley, who sought to offer a feature take on the Barbara Eden-Larry Hagman series. That didn't work out, so Sony brought on "Mulan" writer Rita Hsiao. That didn't make the grade either. "Bend It Like Beckham" director Gurinder Chadha was signed on to direct at one point, then fell off. Linsday Lohan was on board to star as Jeannie. That one really didn't work out. At some point the Nicole Kidman-Will Ferrell "Bewitched" came out and flopped. That didn't help.

It was all enough to make one wish they could just clap their hands together and will a version into existence.

Now producers and Sony have a better idea. According to sources' info, as well as a listing on a nice little development board called It's On the Grid, they've hired Sheila Callaghan, a writer on Showtime's "The United States of Tara," to offer her take. You have to give them credit; they're going out of the bottle -- er, box -- with Callaghan. The writer has written on a number of "Tara" episodes, but she's best known as a downtown New York playwright, writing an acclaimed retelling of James Joyce's "Ulysses" and a Reagan-era romantic drama set in Greece titled "Lascivious Something," among some other well-regarded work.

One of the things that's flummoxed "Jeannie" writers is how to update the 1960s sitcom, which incorporated more than a few pre-feminist ideas, for anything resembling the modern age. It's hard to imagine that too many stories about an astronaut who keeps a subservient woman in a bottle would play on a contemporary screen, at least those outside a certain kind of movie theater.

But given Callaghan's previous work, which grapples with a number of  feminist themes, she just may find a way to crack that problem. (The script won't, pray to the gods, or whomever Jeannie worshiped, go with the meta approach that jinxed "Bewitched," the 2005 reboot of Jeannie's '60s-sitcom counterpart.)

Given the project's history of false starts, it's hard to be supremely confident this one will take. But we live in different times than when "Jeannie" development began. As producers on a host of remakes can tell you, once a well-known brand gets some momentum these days, it's hard to put it back in the bottle.

--Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Barbara Eden in "I Dream of Jeannie." Credit: Columbia Pictures Television

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