The fight for the rights to 'Switched at Birth'


April 26, 1991|By Michael Hill

In last Thursday's Accent section and an early edition Friday it was incorrectly reported that the NBC movie "Switched at Birth," which began last night on Channel 2, would continue tonight. In fact, Channel 2 has pre-empted the final installment until tomorrow night at 9 p.m. in favor of an Oriole's broadcast tonight. The Evening Sun regrets the error.

In his screenplay for "Switched at Birth," Michael O'Hardepicts a bit of the intense media pressure that descended on Bob Mays when it was discovered that his daughter, Kimberly, might actually be the child of Regina and Ernest Twigg because their babies had been mixed up at a Florida hospital a decade before.

What he didn't put in the script was the intense Hollywood pressure that descended on both sides of this bizarre tragedy, which has been turned into a four-hour NBC miniseries running Sunday and Tuesday on Channel 2 (WMAR).


"There was a running joke that the Tampa airport looked like LAX [the Los Angeles airport]," O'Hara said in a recent interview. "Producers were bumping into each other coming and going. The Twiggs and Mayses were each contacted by over 40 producers."

O'Hara decided on his game plan right from the start. With so much contentiousness between the two sides of this story -- Mays felt the Twiggs were trying to take his daughter; the Twiggs felt Mays was keeping them from having contact with their daughter; lawyers were involved -- O'Hara thought that he would never get the rights from both sides.

"I played a game of chess on this," O'Hara said. "I decided to get the rights to Bob Mays because if I could get Mays' rights, I knew I would force somebody else to come in with me. That was my game plan all along, and it worked."

While O'Hara was doing the producer's mating dance with Mays, the Twiggs were choosing among their many suitors. The winner was Barry Morrow, who counts his credit as author of the screenplay for "Rain Man" as a primary factor.

"It was a question of getting their trust," Morrow said. "The Twiggs were very distrustful and hurt by what the press had to say about their position in this.

"'Rain Man' happened to be a favorite movie of the family, except for the swear words in it. And I also had an association with the group New Kids on the Block. That was very important to some of the girls in the family. It was all of that.

"But I think mostly they saw in me somebody who was sensitive to the fears that they had because I have also been the subject of a television movie, some 10 years ago, a movie called 'Bill' with Mickey Rooney."

"Bill" was based on the friendship between Morrow and a retarded man, Rooney's character. Dennis Quaid played Morrow.

"So I'd been through this. Long before I got into the business as a writer and producer, I sat on the other side of the table and sweated those bullets and feared those fears."

Then there was the question of both sides, who are still squaring off in court over this little girl, agreeing to the merger between the producers.

"My company got the rights to Bob Mays first, and then Barry and his company got the rights to the Twiggs," O'Hara said. "We had to convince them that we could do this and do this fairly.

"That was a big thing with the Twiggs especially. They thought I was Bob Mays' person. So Barry came with me to Florida and we spent probably the first two days just trying to win the confidence of Regina Twigg."

O'Hara said he was deluged with information before he began writing the script, some from a researcher who interviewed the parties involved but mostly from the newspaper coverage of the story.

"We had a newspaper clipping file that looked like the Manhattan yellow pages," he said. "I didn't realize how extensive the amount of media coverage was until I started the research.

"So by the time I got down there, I was very prepared. Then I spent about four days with Bob Mays and about four days with the Twiggs. It was a real interesting situation because I came away from the first four days with Bob Mays pretty much sold on his point of view and feeling very negative about the Twiggs.

"As I was driving over to see the Twiggs, I was thinking that I didn't know how I was going to write this because I feel so much in Bob Mays' shoes now. But after four days with the Twiggs, I was annoyed at Bob Mays.

"One of the things I tried to do in the script was constantly put myself in the other family's position."

O'Hara said that there was not much resistance to making the miniseries from either side. "One, it was a catharsis for them. This is an emotional story that will be with them the rest of their lives," he said.

"And I also think they needed the money. These people have enormous medical and legal bills.

As for how much money the two sides are getting, no one would say. "But I think it was the richest rights package in history."

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