Inside the Storytelling of Love & Death – Airs on Thursday, Sept. 7 exclusively on ITVX

Inside the Storytelling of Love & Death - Airs on Thursday, Sept. 7 exclusively on ITVX

Adapting an American Tragedy: Inside the Storytelling of Love & Death

In a career that has spanned nearly four decades, it’s hard to imagine a genre that eight-time Emmy-winning writer and producer David E. Kelley – creator of such TV juggernauts as Big Little Lies, The Practice and Ally McBeal— hadn’t tackled as a storyteller.

But something stirred in him when he read Texas Monthly’s two-part feature Love and Death in Silicon Prairie. The investigative piece, originally published in 1984, centred on the-crazy-but-true-story of Texas housewife Candace “Candy” Lynn Montgomery, who was accused of murdering her lover’s wife, Betty Gore, in Wylie, TX on June 13, 1980. During the assault, Gore was struck 41 times with a wood-splitting axe, leaving local authorities to investigate one of the more gory, disturbing cases in state history.

Montgomery, who at the time was just 30 and married with two small children, was arrested but ultimately found not guilty on October 30, 1980 — by a jury of nine women and three men – on the grounds of self-defence and lingering childhood trauma, which her attorneys say triggered the violent act.

“I was fascinated and immediately wanted to read the book,” says Kelley of authors Jim Bloom and John Atkinson’s deeper examination of the tragedy, Evidence of Love (2018). “I was engrossed in the characters and their pathology, juxtaposed against this bucolic, warm and familiar town. It all drew me in – the place, the people and, of course, the insane plot.

Kelley discussed the prospect of adapting the material for television with his go-to collaborating producers at Blossom Films— Emmy-winners Nicole Kidman and Per Saari (Big Little Lies, The Undoing). They agreed that the tone and focus of an adaptation of this story would eschew a “true-crime” mantle and instead approach the material as a thoughtful examination of a tragedy.

“With David, we always trust that his writing will reflect the human condition, which is what Nicole and I are most drawn to,” says Saari, adding that even a story about a gruesome axe murder also had to be entertaining. “It has to feel human,” he says. “We experienced this making Big Little Lies.

The characters are in very challenging situations, but we presented them like a cappuccino: frothy on top, but underneath there’s a bitter taste that gives you that punch.”

Love & Death had the added onus of telling a painfully true story. “We had to honour the facts and spirit of who these people were,” says Saari. “Candy wasn’t a ‘psychopath;’ she was – and is – a real person who had feelings and complexities; Betty too. And we feel for Betty so much because she was literally fighting for her life.”

Adds Kelley, “When I consider doing any series, the first question I ask is ‘Why?’ And if the story has a strong plot with characters that can entertain and provoke – those are good jumping-off points. And all of that was in these characters. I could relate to them. I grew up in a small town too. I’ve been to those churches, I’ve seen people singing in choirs and socialising at picnics. I felt as if I knew them. At the same time, I didn’t know what some of them, especially Candy, were capable of becoming.”

ITV Press Centre

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