NEW YORK -- Alex Haley is writing the flip-side of 'Roots,' tracing his father's family this time, and instead of the story going back to Africa it winds up in Ireland.
'This is not a sequel to 'Roots,'' said David Wolper, who produced the miniseries 'Roots' and is developing a six-hour miniseries on the new book for CBS. 'In 'Roots' he tracked his mother's family all the way back to Africa and Kunta Kinte. Now what he's doing is tracking his father side of the family -- and it turns white.
'His great-great grandmother was the result of a white plantation owner and a slave, so it goes from black to the white plantation owner's family all the way back to Ireland.'
Wolper said in an interview that Haley has given the book the working title 'Merging,' but is not satisfied with that name. The miniseries will come out about three months after the hardcover hits the bookstores, which will put it on the air either in the spring or fall of 1992.
'The main character of the piece is Queenie, the daughter of the plantation owner and the slave, who lived in the main hosue with the plantation owner's other daughter by his wife,' Wolper said. 'She slept on the floor in the kid's room and was her only playmate and they became friends.
'Alex has been working on the book for four or five years. He's writing it now and at the same time we're preparing the miniseries, just as we did with 'Roots.''
Wolper said the miniseries will open with an incident that occurred when Haley went to the Tennessee cemetery where his white ancestor was buried.
As he told the story, Haley went up to the tombstone to see what it looked like and just get a feeling. While he was there, by the strangest coincidence, a white family came along. They saw Haley, came up to him and said, 'What are you doing here?' Haley replied, 'I think this is my great-great-great grandfather.' They said, 'No, no, it's our great- great-great grandfather.'
Haley said, 'I know, but it's my great-great-great grandfather, too. '
'Needless to say, they were a little stunned,' Wolper said. 'Alex explained who he was, they went to have lunch and became friendly. Most of the family accepts the idea, though there are a couple of relatives who don't want to know about it.'
He said that at a meeting with the publishers, the father of this 'very, very Southern family' presented Haley with a brick from the plantation, saying, 'We accept you as part of our family.'
Casting has not begun for the new Haley miniseries, in which the central character will be Queenie, who had to make a decision about whether to live as black or white.
Wolper also is working on the next chapter of another of his miniseries,'North and South,' the third book in the John Jakes' series, for NBC. It deals with the post Civil War and Reconstruction era.
'Some of the cast from the original miniseries will come back, but I don't know if I'll get Patrick Swayze back,' Wolper said with a laugh. 'That may be tough. So will Kirstie Alley.'
He said the timetable was about the same as 'Roots,' which leaves open the possibility they could play against each other.
'I hope not,' Wolper said. 'I think the new 'Roots' will be first. '
Wolper's career as a filmmaker began with television documentaries -- he eventually made more than 300 of them, just about all of which have been gathered up by the Arts & Entertainment Network. A group of them currently are being run under the title 'David Wolper Presents,' with Wolper contributing an introduction.
'I couldn't get my first film on the air,' he said, reminiscing. 'The first film I did was called 'The Race For Space,' about the U.S.- Soviet space race. The networks had a policy that I found out about the hard way. I even had a sponsor for my program, but the networks wouldn't put it on because it was independently produced.'
Wolper, who had been in the distribution end of the business from 1949 to 1958 and attended the opening of more than 100 television stations, formed his own network to get the show on the air across America.
'My third film was 'The Making of the President 1960,' based on the Theodore White book. I couldn't get that on the networks either,' he said.
He was able to approach Leonard Goldenson, head of ABC, who interceded on behalf of the film. 'The Making of the President 1960' won the top Emmy Award -- since discontinued -- as the Program of the Year for 1963-64.
It was written by White, who Wolper called a born scriptwriter even though he had never written for the small screen before. The film ended with new President John F. Kennedy reaching over to shake the hand of outgoing President Dwight D. Eisenhower. White was dismayed when he found out there was time for only three words with which to end the film.
'He came back in an hour,' Wolper said, 'with those three words. 'Thus power passes.' That says it all.'
Wolper has a number of projects in mind for the future, mainly docudramas. Leading the list is one on Marina Oswald, now a Minneapolis lawyer, and what happened to her after her husband assassinated Kennedy.NEWLN: