“Dolly’s life at this particular time will not only be honored but will be preserved for all eternity as the childhood story of one of America’s great pop icons,” declares “Coat of Many Colors” executive producer Sam Haskell as we chat via webcam (watch above) about working with country music legend Dolly Parton on the hit holiday telefilm. This one-time William Morris executive reminisces about his 30-year friendship with Parton and reveals that are now working together on new projects.
Of this first effort he recalls, “We noodled around on ideas for about a year and then decided it might be interesting to go back into a genre that sort of disappeared for the commercial big four networks, which is the TV movie area. If we could take some of her songs and stories from her life and make TV movies out of them, it might be an interesting way to go.” The initial NBC broadcast in December was seen by 13.03 million viewers, the highest number for any TV movie or miniseries on a broadcast network since 2012. NBC then aired it two weeks later on Christmas and plans on making it a perennial holiday event.
Based on Parton’s hit 1971 song of the same name, “Coat of Many Colors” tells the story of her upbringing in in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Her parents are portrayed by Jennifer Nettles (of country group Sugarland) and Ricky Schroder (“Silver Spoons,” “NYPD Blue”). The family must cope with the premature death of a baby, a drought, and a crisis of faith. They are quite poor, so to cheer up young Dolly after the death, her mother makes a colorful coat out of many rags that have been donated to them.
One of the most difficult challenges for the production team was finding the right young girl to play Parton at nine years old. Haskell reveals, “We looked at over 200 young girls, and there was something wonderful about each of them. But none of them had everything until Alyvia Alyn Lind walked in the room. When I saw her I thought to myself, ‘O dear Lord in Heaven, let her be able to act… We sent Dolly a video of her audition, and it made Dolly cry.”
In addition to being on this summer’s Emmy Awards ballot, the movie has already been honored this month at the Academy of Country Music Awards with the Tex Ritter Award. Parton accepted the prize, which honors a film from the previous year that champions country music.