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Episode one
Lighting the Fire

“This woman’s the devil’s candy!”

A decision has to be made that could make or break the movie: who will play the female lead? It comes down to two actresses – established, expensive and high-maintenance Melanie Griffith or an unknown, alluring 19 year-old named Uma Thurman. Suddenly the producer, Peter Guber, vanishes from the scene, departing both the movie and the studio in a whirl of bad publicity.

Episode two
Reaching for the Stars – and Paying the Price

“I wouldn’t have cast Tom Hanks or Bruce Willis – or me.”

Tom Hanks signs on to play amoral stockbroker Sherman McCoy, and he’s so beloved that nobody recognizes how wrong he is for the part. There’s immediate pushback against Bruce Willis as the other male lead, since his role was written as British. But the hardest decision comes when the director insists that a Jewish judge be played by a Black actor, to soften the film’s racial tensions.

Episode three
The War Zone

“A movie is a war.”

Shooting hasn’t even started and the movie is already under attack.  Detailed leaks and star outbursts are reported daily by a hungry press.  Manhattan socialites call in favors to ask for small (and sometimes large) roles.  Courtroom locations, snippets of dialogue, even a single shot of a plane landing at JFK  every little decision becomes a battle as the crew preps for filming. 

Episode four
Wire Without a Net

“It’s fun. If you can pull it off.”

The cast shows its true colors: some are easygoing and relatable, but not Bruce Willis. The New York shoot spirals over budget as the courtroom scene can only be done at night, and the film’s entire opening is scrapped in favor of the most expensive Steadicam shot ever devised. Meanwhile, Bronx residents show up to throw eggs and lightbulbs at the filmmakers, and one irate New Yorker confronts Brian De Palma directly.

Episode five
Hollywood Heat

“Every woman in Hollywood has a story to tell.”

As production moves to Los Angeles, the specter of sexism clouds the movie. Rumors swirl among the crew: Melanie Griffith’s costumes need to be refitted. Supporting star Kim Cattrall has been starving herself. And most salacious of all, actress Beth Broderick, who has the raciest scene in the whole movie, has secretly been having an affair on the set.

Episode six
The Best Movie We Ever Made

“He’s caught up in the machinery of the studio system. And he has to live with it. We all do.”

With production in Los Angeles, Brian De Palma feels the pressure from prying studio executives – and from Bruce Willis, who starts directing other actors on how to be funnier.  De Palma gets some much-needed encouragement from his friend Steven Spielberg, who is an old pro at playing the Hollywood game.  Then, as post-production ramps up, studio heads see a first cut and love the film, though they have no idea how to market it.

Episode seven
You’ve Got to be a Genius to Make a Movie This Bad

“It makes me sad that it was such a fail.”

The Bonfire of the Vanities tanks with both critics and the moviegoing public.  De Palma leads the autopsy, trying to understand how all these smart people made all the wrong decisions.  The only upside is for Julie Salamon, whose book on the production is instantly hailed as a modern classic But even that success comes at a price, as not everyone is thrilled to be immortalized by the book. 

Bonus Episode
The Devil’s Candy Bonus Episode

Author Julie Salamon joins TCM Host Alicia Malone for a revealing interview about what you didn’t hear during our second season of The Plot Thickens.

Introducing The Devil’s Candy

A blockbuster book, an all-star cast… what could possibly go wrong?  For our second season, we’re telling the inside story of The Bonfire of the Vanities, a movie that was supposed to be a hit – but wasn’t.  Come with us onto the closed set and hear actual recordings of Brian De Palma, Tom Hanks, Melanie Griffith and others, to find out how a highly-anticipated film became a cautionary tale for the ages.