How Pam & Tommy was made without Pamela Anderson's involvement (or permission)
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Pam & Tommy is all about Pamela Anderson. But Pamela Anderson had nothing to do with Pam & Tommy.
Despite the fact that Hulu's limited series is centered on the Baywatch star and how her life was irrevocably changed when someone broke into the home she shared with then-husband Tommy Lee and stole the private sex tape locked in their safe and released it without their consent, the real Anderson actually had no involvement with the show. Attempts were made by the showrunners as well as series star Lily James, who plays Anderson, to reach out to her at different points throughout the development of all eight episodes, but Anderson never responded to any of them. So how is it possible that Pam & Tommy was able to be made without her participation — or permission?
Producers began by optioning the rights to an article published by Rolling Stone in 2014 that revealed the unbelievable true story of how Anderson and Lee's sex tape was stolen and released, which cleared the air about the infamous tape 20 years later. "It's just one of those stories that you can't believe hasn't already been made into a movie or a TV show," showrunner Rob Siegel says. "The article was [from] 2014, and it's kind of amazing that it was still out there and it wasn't snatched up that first day it came out. To me, it screams limited series."
From the very beginning of the process, the creative team wanted to contact Anderson to let her know they were very much on her side. "We particularly wanted to let Pamela Anderson know that this portrayal was very much a positive thing and that we cared a great deal about her and wanted her to know that the show loves her," showrunner D.V. DeVincentis says. "We didn't get a response, but considering what she's been through and the time that we were reaching out, that was understandable."
Despite not getting an answer or blessing from Anderson, Pam & Tommy still moved forward. "The show is very much on, I think if you had to name one person with whom the show's sympathies lie, it's Pam," Siegel says. "And we're very much taking the side — when you tell people about the show and about the tape, when I bring up the subject of the tape and that I was doing a show about it, I was shocked by how many people assumed that [Anderson and Lee] were in on it, which is something I'm happy that we were able to set the record straight about. We very clearly, unambiguously present them as the victims of a crime, which they were."
Siegel knows that a lot of people cynically assume that Anderson and Lee were the ones to leak and sell the sex tape. "But they weren't," he adds. "And we didn't make up a whole lot. Most of what you see in those eight episodes is in that article. The basic plot beats are all straight from the article."
DeVincentis adds that only the conversations between the characters were dramatized for the series, while "the basic mechanics of what happened with the tape and what happened with Rand Gauthier [the electrician who stole the tape, played in the series by Seth Rogen] and with them was pretty much what happened."
Pam & Tommy director Craig Gillespie, who came into the process after all eight scripts were written and helmed the first three episodes, says that the producers "absolutely respect the privacy" of Anderson despite making this series without her. "I felt, for us, what we're trying to do is really change the narrative and your perspective of what happened. And this felt like such an opportunity to do that and to be able to look at the story through today's lens and the outrageousness and just the atrocities that happened. I felt that hopefully, it would change people's point of view on that. So everybody tried to focus on that."
The team also wanted to highlight how this tape didn't just change Anderson's life and career. "We live in a post-Pam and Tommy sex tape age," DeVincentis says. "This tape started it all and people who saw that and the publicity it generated did sort of copycat releases of their own things." He pauses before continuing, "They shall remain nameless. But I think because of that, people just sort of retroactively assumed that Pam and Tommy did that as well, when in fact, the opposite is true. These people were victims of a crime and they were completely against this being released. They were horrified that it was in public, and they were traumatized by it. So much of this show is about the behind-the-scenes strength and heroism of Pamela Anderson in the way that she dealt with and got herself through it."
Siegel adds, "And how, at so many steps along the way, she was just simply right about how it was going to go, how she was going to be seen."
"If you look at the way she's carried herself since then, it's very consistent," DeVincentis continues. "You see her willing to go on talk shows, for instance, where she knows she's going to get these inappropriate, trashy questions asked of her and she's willing to do it so that she can talk about the things that are important to her like animal rights. That's a conscious exchange, and it takes courage to do it. And she's very consistent about it."
On the other hand, the showrunners were never worried about how Lee would feel about not being involved in the series. "Tommy is a public figure and I think we treat him well enough," DeVincentis says. "And we've come to know that he's excited about the show."
Pam & Tommy premieres Feb. 2 on Hulu.
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