EXCLUSIVE: Grossinger’s Catskill Resort Hotel, which inspired Dirty Dancing and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, is getting its own feature doc treatment.
The Borscht Belt resort in upstate New York, which catered to a large Jewish clientele, is to be the subject of a new documentary from Bungalow Media + Entertainment.
It is one of a number of documentary and unscripted projects from the company founded by Robert Friedman, which is also behind Little Richard: I Am Everything, the Dee Rees-exec produced CNN feature doc that is premiering at Sundance, and Discovery+’s Serving The Hamptons.
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The Grossinger’s project will be directed by Paula Eiselt, who directed 2022 Sundance darling Aftershock, which was picked up by Hulu. Harrison Solomon exec produces the project, which has just started production. Private equity investor David Moore, who is a minority investor in NBA team Atlanta Hawks, is funding the doc.
It will tell the story of the resort that saw Elizabeth Taylor marry her fourth husband there, where Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller vacationed and Rocky Marciano trained to become a heavyweight boxing champion, as well as many generations of families spending their holidays there.
It closed in 1986 and many of the resort buildings were demolished in 2018 with a fire raging through what’s left of it earlier this year.
Friedman, who secured the rights to Grossinger’s, tells Deadline that it’s important to tell the story now as “age is not necessarily on our side with some of the characters”. Some of those involved, such as Elaine Grossinger Etess, daughter of Jennie Grossinger, who co-founded the resort with her husband, are still alive.
“It’s a really interesting story, particularly with what’s going on in the world right now with antisemitism,” says Friedman. “It had a huge influence on culture and it was also one of the few places where African Americans could perform and actually stay at the time.”
Between Amazon’s Maisel, which is ending with its upcoming fifth season and a sequel to Dirty Dancing starring Jennifer Grey reprising her role as Baby set for 2024, it’s a good time to tell it.
Bungalow is looking to take the doc to film festivals. “We think it will be a darling. In this world we live in, it might get scooped up but we want to take it to the festival route.”
If it does go that way, it would be its latest doc to go down this route; Little Richard: I Am Everything, which is directed by Lisa Cortés and has been made in association with Rolling Stone, is premiering at Sundance in January after it was commissioned by CNN Films and HBO Max.
Friedman says that Little Richard’s career is “one of the most fascinating and important stories in music and pop culture history” and the film “will unspool Richard’s incalculable influence on music history, at long last giving him his rightful place on the rock and roll throne”.
Former RadicalMedia President Friedman, who was also previously Co-Chairman of New Line Cinema and one of the original group to launch MTV, established Bungalow in 2013.
It has produced a mix of documentaries, unscripted television and scripted series. On the scripted side, it was involved in Fox drama APB, Netflix’s Insatiable and Amazon’s Modern Love as well as Clive Owen feature film The Confirmation.
On the docs side, it has produced four-part mini-series Surviving Jeffrey Epstein for Lifetime, the five-part mini-series The Preppy Murder for AMC/Sundance, The Panama Papers for Epix, and Rosewell: The First Witness for the History Channel and as well as feature docs including The Devil Made Me Do It for Discovery+ and Spring Broke on Showtime.
More recently, it is behind Serving the Hamptons, a reality series for Discovery+ that follows exclusive restaurant 75 Main and the “young and sexy” staff that serve its celebrity clientele, and True Crime Story: It Couldn’t Happen Here, a true-crime series fronted by Hilary Burton Morgan for Sundance TV and AMC+.
Serving The Hamptons, which counted Teresa Sorkin among its exec producers, premiered earlier this year on Discovery+ and is currently available on HBO Max. The second season will air in 2023, although it’s not clear whether it will air on Discovery+ or HBO Max or even possibly the newly combined service. Star Zach Erdem, who owns the restaurant, recently said that the show has already been picked up for a third season to air in 2024, although that has not been confirmed.
Friedman says that the show is its version of Below Deck.
“It has a little bit of the DNA of food as a way in, but it’s these young people living in a house, and working together for 24 hours a day,” he adds. “People are obsessed with the Hamptons and it’s high-end Upstairs, Downstairs.”
He says that he hopes it become an even bigger brand. “We hope that it could become a franchise that we could also pull into other shows, with the same sort of DNA.”
In reality, the company is also preparing for Stab That Cake, hosted by John Henson and Jocelyn Delk Adams, will launch on Cooking Channel and Discovery+ on December 30.
On the crime side, True Crime Story: It Couldn’t Happen Here has run for 14 episodes on Sundance and AMC+.
“There will always be great crime stories whether they’re told on Dateline or 48 Hours, but we want to tell them in a different way,” he says.
It also has Manifesto of a Serial Killer launching on NBCUniversal’s Oxygen early in the new year. This series explores the story of two men who killed at least 25 people in pursuit of their macabre sexual fantasy to enslave young women at a remote cabin in the woods,
Next up, it is working with Vicky Ward, the former Vanity Fair contributing editor who closely covered the Jeffrey Epstein case, on a new franchise – Vicky Ward Investigates. “It’s not pure crime in the Oxygen sense but more of a sophisticated crime that could feel very different,” he adds.
It is also developing a project with actor and director John Leguizamo about Father Divine, a cult leader who died in 1965 that believed he was God.
Crime adjacent is Vegas: The Story Of Sin City (w/t), another project that Bungalow Media + Entertainment is producing for CNN. The four-part series, which will launch in 2023, was one of the few original series remaining at the Warner Bros. Discovery network after recent cuts. It tells the story of the last 70 years of the gambling capital through the businessmen and the infamous mafia figures that put it on the map.
This mixture of genres was important to Friedman, who says documentaries weren’t as prevalent as they are now when he started the business.
“I like to think that we’re a boutique studio,” says Friedman. “About 75% of what we do is in the unscripted space even though my background after the MTV days was mostly in the scripted form with feature films. That includes docs and the follow-docs, which I like, so maybe it’s cognitive dissonance that I came up with an excuse about why this was a good way to do it. But I thought that it was an interesting moment in time to plant our flag using docs and premium content even though we were going to go off and do a bunch of follow-docs and formats, which on a business level, once you get that 50 or 100 episode thing, put you in a different place.”
Investors in Bungalow include private equity group Loeb Partners and Jeff Sagansky, who sits on the company’s board and made waves this summer with his views on the streaming business model.
But, given the current market for documentaries and continued frenzied M&A around independent production companies, would Friedman sell up? He admits that he has had “preliminarily” conversations.
“We would definitely consider a strategic partnership with a partner that will allow us to scale faster than we currently scale. It’s certainly something that we think about. The challenge will be, can we maintain this wonderful culture, at the same time that we maintain the kind of margin that we have? But there are certainly players that I would consider talking to, because I do think we would bring something to their systems of work in the same way that they would bring stuff to us,” he adds.
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