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Series / The Temptations

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“As a matter of fact, I’ve been thinkin’, we should call the group David Ruffin and the Temptations!”
Leon, as Temptations lead vocalist David Ruffin

The Temptations is a Miniseries broadcast on NBC in 1998, divided into two-hour halves and based on the story of the Motown soul/R&B legends of the same name. The series was based on the book Temptations, by sole original member Otis Williams (with Patricia Romanowski), and is narrated through the eyes of Williams, as he documents the group's history from 1958-59, when Otis formed Temptations predecessor Otis Williams and the Siberians and first met future Tempts bass singer Melvin Franklin, all the way through 1995, when Franklin tragically passed away. The first half focuses on the Tempts' origins and their "Classic Five" lineup (also including Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks, and David Ruffin), while the second half is devoted to their later history, where Dennis Edwards replaces the troublesome Ruffin as lead vocalist, Paul Williams struggles with alcoholism, and the hits start drying up following 1972's number one single "Papa Was a Rolling Stone". The deaths of all the Classic Five members except Otis are also explored here, same with the Tempts' short-lived reunions featuring the classic lineup's members instead of their less-heralded replacements.

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The miniseries stars Charles Malik Whitfield as Otis Williams, D.B. Woodside as Melvin Franklin, Christian Payton as Paul Williams, Terron Brooks as Eddie Kendricks, and Leon as David Ruffin.


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  • Adaptational Heroism: The Temptations autobiography doesn't paint Dennis Edwards in a positive light, but in the miniseries, he's "a lot less trouble than David had been". There is little focus given to Dennis apart from his anger at producer Norman Whitfield including the line "it was the third of September" in "Papa Was a Rolling Stone", as that was the day his father had supposedly died.
  • Adapted Out: Despite the series taking place across the decades and ending in the 90s, with the exception of Al Bryant, Richard Street, and Dennis Edwards, the non-Classic Five Tempts (and there are many of them) are hardly present in the miniseries. For example, Eddie Kendricks' replacement Damon Harris is shown singing with the band, but he is never referenced by name.
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  • The Alcoholic: Al Bryant, whose drinking and bad attitude gets him fired from the group, and later, when the Tempts are already famous, Paul Williams.
  • Artistic License:
    • Melvin Franklin, in real life, died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. In the miniseries, he dies while getting food in the kitchen of his mother's home.
    • The miniseries references the legend that Dennis Edwards (see above) was uncomfortable singing "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" because his father also died on the third of September. In reality, his dad died on the third of October.
    • David Ruffin's death. In the miniseries, he was dumped near a hospital and not identified for about a week, seemingly destitute at that point. In real life, he was brought to the hospital by his chauffeur after what would turn out to be a fatal drug overdose.
    • In the miniseries, Melvin tells Otis that ex-Primes Paul and Eddie want to join their group, which is still known as The Distants. Otis is reluctant to have them join, while Paul and Eddie awkwardly deny wanting to join the Distants. In real life, it was Otis who offered Eddie a chance to sing for the then-Distants, and when Eddie said he'll only accept if Paul could also join the group, Otis was happy to have the two ex-rivals team up with him and Melvin.
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  • Call-Back: Otis reprises his introduction to Melvin's mother in 1958 when he shows up at her house in 1995. Likewise, Mama Rose calls Melvin out in the same way, though in 1995, he's now wheelchair-bound.
  • Can't Hold His Liquor: Two scenes show Paul's alcoholism at its worst.
    • One scene has him drunkenly singing "For Once in My Life" at a party, and after he stumbles while going over-the-top toward the end of the song, he becomes belligerent and has to be taken out of the house and calmed down by Eddie.
    • The other scene has Paul so wasted at a concert that he's slurring the lyrics to "Psychedelic Shack". For the next number, "I Can't Get Next To You", he's limited to lip-syncing and dancing, while band friend/future member Richard Street does the actual singing backstage.
  • Driven to Suicide: Depressed at being unable to tour with the Temptations due to his medical condition, and unable to properly deal with his alcoholism, Paul shoots himself in his car, right outside the Motown studios.
  • Drugs Are Bad: David's cocaine addiction made him extremely unreliable when he teamed up with Eddie for a series of gigs, then with the Classic Five lineup (plus Dennis) after seemingly becoming responsible and humble for the first time since he first joined the group. Eventually, it's that coke addiction that kills David, though the miniseries took Artistic License in depicting his death.
    • Almost played for laughs in a couple of scenes. In one scene, Eddie scolds David for not answering the phone, only for both men to find out that David left it hanging overnight. In another, David tries to trade free tickets to one of the group's shows for more drugs, but the drug dealer angrily points out that the gig was actually the day before. Then viewers are reminded once again of the extent of David's coke addiction when he trades his new Lincoln instead and the dealer is more than happy to accept.
  • Foreshadowing: Paul's warning to Otis that there will eventually be "more ex-Temptations than Temptations." In real life, he was right.
  • I Am the Band: As the fame gets to David's head and the coke goes up his nose, he starts seeing himself as more important than the rest of the group. Twice in the series, he suggests that the band should be renamed "David Ruffin and the Temptations".
    • Ironically, after he gets fired from the band, David sees the Tempts as Otis and Melvin's group, and tries to convince Eddie to leave while he still can.
  • Must Have Nicotine: Eddie is frequently seen smoking a cigarette. In real life, Eddie Kendricks was a heavy smoker, and died of lung cancer in 1992.
  • Only One Name: David's driver/bodyguard/drug procurer Flynn. Flynn who? Just Flynn.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Not shown in full detail, but it is implied that Otis has an affair with The Supremes' Florence Ballard while on tour with the other Motown artists.
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