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Norman Lear Teams Up With Peter Tolan to Revive His Senior Citizen Comedy ‘Guess Who Died’

Tolan, whose WGN America series "Outsiders" was recently canceled, is working with Lear on an updated script.

Norman Lear

Norman Lear

Alex Berliner

Norman Lear is moving one step closer to making his long-gestating comedy “Guess Who Died” a reality.

Emmy-winning writer Peter Tolan (“The Larry Sanders Show,” “Rescue Me”) has joined the project as co-writer with Lear on the show, which is set in a retirement village. Lear has been working on the show for at least seven years, and frequently brings the project up in interviews. But until recently, he expressed dismay that it might never get made.

But now the legendary TV producer, at age 94, is on another hot streak. Following the recent successful remake of Lear’s 1970s sitcom “One Day at a Time,” now reimagined at Netflix with stars Justina Machado and Rita Moreno, Sony Pictures TV is developing “Guess Who Died” as a spec comedy script.

Peter TolanWGN's 'Outsiders' Panel, TCA Winter Press Tour, Los Angeles, USA - 13 Jan 2017

Peter Tolan

Buchan/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

That means it’s still in very early stages of development, but the addition of Tolan gives it more momentum. Tolan was most recently executive producer on Sony’s WGN America drama “Outsiders,” which was the network’s highest-rated series before it opted to exit the premium drama business.

Tolan is known for both comedy and drama; his other credits include “The Job,” “The Jim Gaffigan Show” and “Rake.” Besides “Larry Sanders,” he also won an Emmy for “Murphy Brown.”

On IndieWire’s “Turn It On” podcast last December, Lear mentioned the status of “Guess Who Died”: “People thought it was funny,” he said. “But everyone who read it said, ‘sorry, that’s not our demographic.'”

Undeterred, Lear went ahead and started casting “Guess Who Died,” and organized a table read of the script in 2016 at the Austin Film Festival – which was filmed by the newsmagazine “CBS Sunday Morning.” See it here:

The New York Times also chronicled Lear’s efforts to get it made in a short documentary. Watch below:

Lear credited that attention for helping keep “Guess Who Died” alive. “I think it may have sold the show because it attracted a tremendous amount of interest, including a couple of sources that want to put it on,” he said.

For the man who brought “All in the Family,” “Good Times” and “The Jeffersons” to the small screen, among many other legendary series, he is in the midst of quite a career renaissance. “I intend to stay pretty busy as long as I’m getting up in the morning,” he said in December.

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