Bill Steigerwald

When Hollywood's movie-makers and docu-dramatists get their hands on American history, accuracy, reality and truth often are tortured beyond recognition. But starting at 8 p.m. Sunday, March 16, HBO Films will be delivering the seven-part, nine-hour mini-series "John Adams." Co-executive produced by Tom Hanks, starring Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney as John and Abigail Adams, it is by all accounts a high-quality, historically accurate and meticulously faithful adaptation of super-historian David McCullough's blockbuster 2001 book of the same name. McCullough, whose 2005 best-seller "1776" is also in development by HBO, is a two-time winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. His "John Adams" biography -- a huge critical and commercial success -- reminded the masses that the often-forgotten second president of the United States was a major intellectual force and a courageous political player in the country's miraculous founding. I recently talked to McCullough about the making of the HBO series by phone from his home in West Tisbury, Mass.

Q: I presume that by now you've seen the final cut of "John Adams"?

A: I have not seen the final cut because there is still editing being done for the last hours. But I have seen the evolution of the project from the very beginning, all the way along over the last three, nearly four years. I've seen every version of the script for each episode and I have seen the preliminary rough cut, the secondary rough cut and so forth for all of the episodes. I can tell you that I am more than pleased with the quality, the look, the integrity of it all. It is superb.

Q: What is the most important message or point of the book that you wanted to make sure was going to be carried forth by the mini-series?

A: I wanted very much for the medium, which is a very different medium from a book, to convey the reality of those times -- the hardships and sufferings that the protagonists experienced and all that they went through -- and to catch particularly the character of John and Abigail Adams. When you make the decision to turn a book you have done over to filmmakers, you are really trusting in their integrity. And after meeting Tom Hanks and spending time with him, and talking about the book, and talking about particular characters and particular scenes in the book, I was convinced that he was the right person to do the job -- and I have had no reason whatever to change my mind.


Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald, born and raised in Pittsburgh, is a former L.A. Times copy editor and free-lancer who also worked as a docudrama researcher for CBS-TV in Hollywood before becoming a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a columnist Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Bill Steigerwald recently retired from daily newspaper journalism..