Newsies as a miniseries.
Okay, it would be cool if they made Newsies into a limited tv series (on Netflix or something) based on the 1992 film. And it would go the period drama angle overall (I think I’d cut out the musical numbers for this series), but it would have a modern feel and tone. You could deep dive into the struggles of societal norms, identity, and friendship from different perspectives of characters trying to find their place in that time. Combine real-life with fantasy by incorporating historical characters, like Teddy Roosevelt and Hearst & Pulitzer and some of the original newsies. And you could still have winks and nods to the songs by incorporating lyrics into dialogue.
And maybe look something like this:
1. I’ll Furnish the War: (1898) Pick up during end of Spanish-American War. Show how papers are selling like hot cakes during the war. Talk of paper’s price increased but not a problem because business is so good. Introduce the newspaper tycoons and their wealth, highlighting Hearst’s carefree, cynical persona and Pulitzer’s slight reluctance but eventual participation in yellow journalism. Both benefit from the gilded age, with Hearst coming from privilege, and Pulitzer coming from humble beginnings – a champion of the poor turned greedy. We follow all the newsies, getting brief introductions and glimpses into their personalities as they sell papers. We don’t learn everyone’s name quite yet. But we know Jack. And we’re introduced to the close-knit Jacobs’ family who are doing better than most, with the all the children in school. David is top of his class, Les is excited about entering what would be considered middle school back then, and Mrs. Jacobs is gritting her teeth and contending with the idea of Les sneaking home a kitten. She doesn’t want the damn thing, but she gives it a saucer of milk and finds a place for it to sleep. They have a piano in their apartment that Mr. Jacobs and Sarah play and sing together, and it’s just a sweet moment between father and daughter that they get to share. We meet Brian Denton at the New York Sun. He’s a trust-fund kid, but he wants to shed that image and is still riding the high of charging up San Juan Hill with Roosevelt in July. We find he’s tired of covering the society columns and wants to branch out into “award-winning” journalism like the war he’s been covering. He gets lunch with Nellie Bly, and it’s revealed they were childhood friends, and she gives him advice on how to find good, raw, human-interest stories. But his boss warns him not to go chasing leads that will tarnish the paper’s reputation. They must stay on par with competitors, but they will not stoop to sensationalism. Medda gets a quick introduction. Jack drops by her theater to deliver her paper in person, and we see a tableau with her painted portrait advertising a new show. She’s mid-anecdote with reporters and dance instructors, waxing poetic about her early days on the stage, which she has since shared with the likes of Lola Montez (out west), Jane Avril (Paris), Louise Henderson (London), Mabel Love (London), Lydia Thompson (in the Bowery), and Lola Yberri (Mexico). We don’t know if she’s exaggerating, but she’s so compelling, we believe her. She exchanges a wink with Jack, as if to confirm she’s teasing the reporters, and slips him a whole dollar. She also tells him to help himself to cake and refreshments on his way out as she subtly pulls his coat tighter, and we understand the maternal relationship. And then it’s back to entertaining her guests. We get a glimpse of the newsies’ hardships, the Delancey brothers’ antics as newsboys themselves, and Jack standing up for his friends and the younger kids. And we end with Jack running away from Snyder after a chance encounter – we establish stakes – but it’s played off as a light-hearted narrow escape. Jack, while running, bumps into David walking into a lecture hall and blends in, convincing David to play along and pretend he’s a student so he can hide from “a little trouble outside.” The Delancey’s get jobs as assistants for their Uncle Wiesel at the distribution center. Mr. Jacobs gets injured on the job and is fired. The family is now in financial trouble, and they must sell the piano.
2. Carpe Diem: (1899) Flash-forward in time. David and Les arrive on the scene. They must get jobs now that their father has been out of work for longer than expected, and they had to quit school. Jack recognizes David from that run-in almost a year ago and calls him “college boy” or some other academic nickname. Jack teaches them the ropes, and we flash cut to different newsies with Jack’s narration describing their selling spots and tactics. We get to know their personalities and names further here. Now we get into the strike. Prices have not been lowered since the war, and it’s taking a toll on the newsies. Stakes are high because several newsies have vacated the lodging house, not being able to pay rent. Kloppman (the landlord) mentions he heard one of their friends (who we don’t see) starved to death because he could no longer afford 60 cents per hundred and couldn’t find work anywhere else. This scares a lot of the newsies into doing something about the unfair prices. The guys are initially upset but split on the issue (because the alternative is to starve). David mentions off-handedly about his father’s work and if he had a union, he would have his job back. And Jack starts thinking about the trolley strike and asks David if it’s possible to pull off a newsboy strike. And David’s hesitant about the planning, and half the newsies are pro, and half are con to the idea. A few newsies quit on the spot and go take up other trades to make money, offering their “so-longs” and “good lucks.” Jack takes charge with David as a de facto second-in-command. The strikers start out as a small group of newsies, and he tries to talk to Pulitzer about the newsies’ demands but gets thrown out immediately. The Delancey brothers give him a hard time, and Jack takes both on by himself successfully and wins the respect of the other newsies. The idea of including Spot Conlon is introduced, and the others react with mixed feelings, shrouding mystery over the idea of an intimidating newsie over in Brooklyn. We get a flash cut to Spot soaking “intruders” on his territory, but we don’t see what he looks like. More of a silhouette, or we just see the reactions of the other newsies as he beats up rivals. We the audience assume he’s a big, imposing brawler.
3. Hell Époque: The strikers grow in number in Manhattan. They knock over delivery wagons and start small fights with local distribution center workers. Despite the growth in ranks, a few newsies give up and leave, unable to contend with the lack of work/money. Rumors start to circulate that Spot Conlon is soaking (and maybe killed) newsies that are striking or spreading the strike in Brooklyn, and therefore squashing any sort of hope for alliance with Manhattan newsies. It’s rumored he’s being paid to uphold order. This episode would focus on Crutchy Morris, who has a bad leg from a childhood accident, giving him a limp. He, like David, is hesitant to engage in the violence that inevitably erupts from the strike but is pressured to join in the fight. He puts aside his doubts and helps his friends during a heated scuffle, but he ends up getting knocked unconscious by one of the Delancey’s after throwing himself in front of a younger striker. Cops break up the fight, and he’s taken to the Refuge, along with a few others.
4. Cavalry: We’re introduced to new characters – garment workers – who join the more general strike in solidarity with the newsies, thanks to Sarah’s urging at her workplace. At first, the boys are reluctant to allow the young women to help. The girls struggle with being accepted by the newsies who don’t want outside help, especially from women. There’s talk of strikers needing help in Harlem because there isn’t as much support for the cause there, and the Manhattan newsies (and the garment strikers) decide to go over and act as reinforcements. During this bloody fight, the young garment workers (including Sarah) prove themselves to the newsies, but the fight does not go well in Harlem, and they’re all forced to return to Manhattan following the loss. Skittery is badly injured and must take time off from the strike to recover. This episode would focus on Sarah Jacobs, the garment strikers apparent spokesman, as she disguises herself as a guy to engage in the thick of the fight. She takes quite the beating, but manages to hold her own alongside the others, and she’s celebrated as a hero.
5. Go West Young Man: Jack keeps a journal, and he’s writing about how the strike is going so far. Almost as though he’s writing a letter to an unknown family member, like a memoir, as if he’ll see them soon. We assume his family really is out west, waiting for him. He’s detailing the fights with the distribution employees and the local enforcers. He’s deeply troubled by his sense of right and wrong after beating up a newsie about his age selling papers in Manhattan, blinded in the moment by rage. The guy had to be taken to a hospital, and Jack later learned the newsie’s little sister relied on him to make money. And he keeps flashing back to seeing her frightened face as she watched Jack beat him up. So, we see there’s two sides, and there are newsies who cannot afford to strike. And Jack is starting to see this, too, and losing his way in a crisis of “who are we fighting for, if not for them. Because they, too, are us.” Maybe he should just go west after all. Denton’s interest in the strike comes to fruition. The newsies are poised for an upcoming fight with grown strike breakers and cops, but they don’t know how bad it’ll be. By the end of the episode, Jack has gained infamy in the other newspapers, and this draws Snyder’s attention.
6. Muckrakers: We enter the hottest week on record, and the newsies risk heat stroke to demonstrate and protest. They face an uphill battle with more scabs, heartbreakingly recognizing some as their former comrades, and must hold strong while dangerously low on funds and morale. Denton continues conducting interviews and running stories in the Sun. And he catches the attention of powerful figures like former newsie and senator Big Tim Sullivan and Roosevelt. Pulitzer has a scene where he’s considering what to do in reaction to his circulation plummeting. He thinks this can’t go on forever and the boys will tire themselves out. His wife confronts him about the strike and tries to talk sense into him, saying they’re just children, but he’s too stubborn. The episode would focus on Mush and Kid Blink as the duo crack jokes and try to keep optimism up (which is falling fast), while acting as ambassadors for other boroughs to encourage them to join the strike. We flash cut to their visits in various parts of the city and how their meetings go, and overall, they are successful. They also convince Medda to hold a rally at Irving Hall in support of the strike, and she begins preparing, though she loses several of her performers who want nothing to do with the strike (afraid of the bad press their careers will receive in Hearst’s or Pulitzer’s papers).
7. Brooklyn: The newsies face off with the adult strike breakers – a brutal mob of armed men, paid to squash the rebellion – and the newsies take a rough beating. A good number of them are badly injured and out of the fight. This episode would examine and question the actions of Hearst, who orchestrated this ambush on the newsies. But he didn’t predict Spot Conlon would turn the whole thing on its head. Brooklyn newsies show up in the middle of the battle, wielding clubs and bats of their own (and of course, slingshots). Spot relieves Jack, and thanks to his help in pushing back the mob, he gets a leadership role within the strike committee. I think Racetrack Higgins should narrate this episode, as he seems to have a history with Spot that isn’t explained in the 1992 version. Racetrack, throughout the episode, could be shooting off quotable wisecracks, encouraging others to keep fighting via good speeches, and really being a force of positivity and confidence. And then he also gets an important role on the strike committee, at the recommendation of Spot.
8. Solitude: Alright, this is the rally episode. A bunch of newsies from other boroughs have joined the strike, and a lot of factory workers, garment workers, and other child laborers have also contributed. They are the biggest they’ve ever been. The rally is a dangerous undertaking, and though great speeches are made (including one by Mr. Jacobs) and everyone’s hope is renewed, the cops bust in and start making arrests and cracking heads. At the trial, most of the newsies are dismissed when Denton and Medda pay the fines. Medda converts her theater into an infirmary for injured strikers, and Mrs. Jacobs and Sarah and Medda’s dancers stitch wounds and attend to injuries. Denton’s story goes to print, and public opinion of the strike turns toward the newsies’ favor. This whole episode should be narrated by Skittery, who was recently healed from the beating he took in episode 4 and is back in the game. Though the others are jaded and cold to Skittery because he’s missed so much, and they suspected he might’ve been selling papers while he was gone. Jack is among those to be arrested and taken to the Refuge. There are two, treacherous rescue attempts made. Together with the recent scab-turned-striker Specs, Skittery finally wins back the trust and support of his friends. By the end of the episode, Jack is smuggled out of the Refuge, and Racetrack is promoted to spokesman of the strike committee due to his compelling speeches (which the real Racetrack was known for).
9. One Voice: I think it would be more powerful and make more sense if David was the one considering scabbing to help feed his family. Les is worried the family kitten (that Mrs. Jacobs has come to love) will starve to death. So, while David struggles with the temptation of making money to put food on the table (and keep the cat for Les), the strikers clog the Brooklyn Bridge, halting city traffic for hours as part of their protest. Crutchy and the other imprisoned newsies, meanwhile, orchestrate interviews in the Refuge, writing down the kids’ stories and the detailing the conditions of the Refuge. Crutchy slips the notes and letters to Denton when he comes to visit on the pretense of doing a story on Snyder’s work with the city’s charities. Denton, with the help of his friend Nellie Bly, prints their stories of the conditions in an article, unleashing outrage and shock from the public, and this leads to the release of prisoners, including Crutchy and some other newsies.
10. The Power of the Press: The strikers manage to influence Hearst and Pulitzer’s circulation to a record low, and they also organize a meeting with the two newspaper giants. They reach a compromise that the company will buy back their unsold papers from now on, and an official newsboy union is formed, signaling the end of the strike. While a few move on to other professions, most of the strikers return to being newsies until they outgrow it. By the end, we see where each featured newsie ended up in life (both real and fictional), and the old lodging house where Jack and so many of the others lived still stands today. The Jacobs’ flat is now part of the tenement museum. Neither Hearst’s nor Pulitzer’s newspaper survives today. Fade to black.