CBS’ ‘Beauty and the Beast’ Upended the Fairy Tale With George R. R. Martin’s Help
The CBS procedural Beauty and the Beast, which ended 30 years ago this month, may not have featured French-speaking candlesticks or singing tea sets. But the modern take on the classic fairy tale, which starred a post-Terminator Linda Hamilton and a pre-Sons of Anarchy Ron Perlman, did have one of the most creative writers working on the series: Game of Thrones mastermind George R. R. Martin.
The imaginative premise hinted at the fantastical stories he’d go on to tell: Beauty and the Beast centered on Catherine Chandler (Hamilton), a New York City socialite and lawyer who is brutally attacked and rescued from certain death by Vincent (Perlman), a lion-faced man who lives in a secret subterranean community, a so-called World Below far more civilized than the World Above. Emboldened by the experience, Catherine becomes an assistant district attorney who devotes her life to taking down the city’s criminal factions with the help of Vincent, with whom she’s empathically (and soon romantically) linked.
Created by Ron Koslow, Beauty and the Beast also featured future Homeland creators Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa as writers, future Party of Five scribe P.K. Simonds, and GRRM, of course. Martin began plotting out his hit A Song of Ice and Fire book series, the basis of Game of Thrones, just a few years after Beauty and the Beast ended.
In fact, Martin made A Song of Ice and Fire an epic in response to the limitations of his television writing, as he told The New York Times in 2011. “The theme of that whole period for me was, I would always turn in my first draft to whatever network or studio or producer I was working for and the reaction was inevitably, ‘George, this is great. It’s terrific, it’s a wonderful read, thanks. But it’s three times our budget. We can’t possibly make it. It’s too big and it’s too expensive,’” he recalled. “So then I would go in and I would start cutting. I would combine characters and trim out giant battle scenes, make it produceable. Although the later drafts of those scripts were always more polished, because I’d revised them several times, my favorites were always the first drafts, which had all the good stuff in it which I had to take out because it was too expensive and too big.”
Martin’s work on the show certainly got the attention of Perlman. “I would compare [Ron Koslow’s] scripts to Miles Davis,” the actor told The Hollywood Reporter in 2017. “But the George R.R. Martin scripts were like John Coltrane on acid — primal, but with incredible elegance.”
Premiering in September 1987, the show took critics — and academics — by surprise. “They’re on to something very significant,”’ said Dr. Jack Zipes, then a University of Florida professor and the author of several books about fairy tales, told the Times in 1988. “They found the equivalents in contemporary society — the beast as outcast who lives with the homeless. I think it’s a fascinating way to reinterpret a traditional fairy tale and make it very relevant with regard to social and political problems, the homeless, outcasts. It has a nice sense of justice.”
The Times’ John J. O’Connor wrote: “By attempting to be a little different, [Beauty and the Beast] has edged forward a bit beyond conventional formulas. In a medium devoted to images, especially those of standard beauties and hunks, here is a show saying, week after week, that looks can deceive.”
The show also earned 24 Primetime Emmy Award nominations — including two back-to-back nods for Outstanding Drama Series — as well as six wins. Perlman also took home the 1989 Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Television Series Drama.
But the fairy tale came to a less-than-happy ending in 1990. Hamilton left Beauty and the Beast at the start of its third season to start a family, and producers tried to keep viewers hooked by bringing in a new “Beauty” and catering to the show’s more violent instincts, all to no avail. CBS canceled the show in January 1990 and burned off the last episodes of its abbreviated Season 3 that July and August.
More than two decades later, The CW rebooted the series with Beauty & the Beast, which starred Smallville’s Kristin Kreuk as Catherine and It Chapter Two’s Jay Ryan as Vincent. That series — developed by Sherri Cooper-Landsman and Jennifer Levin, with Koslow onboard as an executive producer — ran for four seasons between 2012 and 2016, outlasting its predecessor’s run.
Still, a 2017 essay in The Atlantic declared the 1987 version the best live-action adaptation of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, as well as “the most compelling, the most nuanced, and definitely the one with the hair-sprayiest Beast.”
“Ridiculous? Yes, so very much,” added The Atlantic’s Megan Garber. “But also: charming? Ahead of its time? Offering subtle and often totally unsubtle commentary about belonging and otherness and the transcendent powers of empathy? All that, too, definitely.”
Martin remembers it fondly, too. “It was such a literate show and such a smart show,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2017. “Certainly the way it ended is not how I would have picked. But we had an amazing cast to write for. Certainly Linda Hamilton is a wonderful actress. Roy Dotrice, who played Father, has done all the narration on the Game of Thrones audiobooks. He’s a fantastic actor. And of course Ron Perlman. Working with Ron Perlman was one of the great pleasures of my life. He was just a joy to write for.”
He went on: “I loved the show. Like any show there were high points and low points, but for the most part it was a great show to work on. I learned a lot. I like to think I contributed a lot. We were nominated for a bunch of Emmys. It was a good show. I’m proud of my association with it.”
Beauty and the Beast, Streaming Now, CBS All Access