Set in Detroit Michigan 1967, Arthur Hailey's 1971 book, 'Wheels', took readers on a journey inside America's richest industry – automobile manufacturing - and explored the hierarchy of the automobile empire. Initially, Arthur Hailey wanted to write a story about auto dealerships but Les Barker of Doubleday and Co. requested he expanded his idea "to an industry-wide story." 

Arthur Hailey told Seymour Rothman of the 'Toldedo Blade', "Not only did people in all echelons give me time, but they suggested others to talk to and even set up appointments for me. More doors opened that I could walk through, and after I'd get home from a trip to Detroit I'd find myself rushing and aggressive just as if I were a part of the industry." 

After reading the 374-page book, price $7.95 in 1971 ($8.75 in Canada), reviewer Timothy Kenny remarked, "Having grown up in Detroit and worked on an assembly line and having 2 uncles who are middle managers for Ford and Chrysler, I can attest to the fact that Hailey has done his homework. He notes, for example, that wheels of cars put together on Monday or Friday are more likely to fall off  than cars assembled during the rest of the week. 

"Because of high absenteeism on those 2 days, foremen tend to ignore quality and concentrate on meeting the daily quota levels set by higher-ups. As an insightful documentary on Detroit and the manufacturing of automobiles, Hailey's book is interesting. Detroit's automobile assembly plants run 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, 48 weeks a year. 55 cars an hour, 4,400 cars a week, 9 million cars a year are produced by the mechanized motion of men working on assembly lines." 

Malcolm Foster was a staff member of the English Department at Sir George Williams University told the 'Montreal Gazette', "Having worked as a salesman in Toronto for a number of years before he finally made it as a writer, Arthur Hailey has a talent for getting people to talk, so the reader can be sure that if it's in the novel, it's true. One other thing that Hailey said to me in Indiana in 1967 was that he knew, so far as style was concerned, he wasn't much of a writer. 

"There were any number of kids in college who could write rings around him, but he knew how to do research and he knew how to construct a complex story. The modesty, which was very sincere, was refreshing. I enjoyed 'Wheels'. It's the kind of book you keep putting down to tell your wife, friends, or children, 'Did you know that right after Christmas is the best time to buy a car because you can get a far better price and they've worked out most of the bugs by then?' and so on."

A market was created in the 1970s for book-to-film ('Love Story'; 'The Godfather') and novel for television ('The Moneychangers'; 'East of Eden'). Hollywood agent H.N. Swanson told the Associated Press, "Right now (in 1971) there is a roaring market for best-sellers." However Robert Evans begged to differ, "For every best-seller that we've sponsored, there have been several that have failed. You can't create a best-seller unless the public wants to buy it." 

Another agent observed, "Today's (in 1971) producers don't have faith in their own ability to judge material. They figure if several million people read a book it must have appeal." Irving Lazar reasoned, "If you have a best-seller that has an implicit quality to make a good movie, you can sell it at a good price today (in 1971). But some books are not obvious film material. For instance, Vladimir Nabokov's 'Ada'. I sold some options on it, but nobody could see how to make a movie of it." 

In May 1978, Arthur Hailey's best-seller became an $8 million mini-series. 'Wheels' was adapted for television by Millard Lampel and Hank Searles. Shown over 5 compelling nights, the 10-hour mini-series centered around the fictional National Motors Corporation. Rock Hudson played an automobile executive who was trying to rescue the financially troubled corporation by developing and manufacturing a new auto called the Hawk. Lee Remick was matter-of-fact, "I confess to not being well versed in American automobile companies, so I don’t know which one (GM, Ford, etc) it professes to be closest to. I suppose it's an amalgamation. It has industrial espionage and sabotage and racial troubles." 

Filming for 'Wheels' started in November 1977 at Universal Studios. Part I attracted a rating of 23.2 (about 16.9 million homes with TV sets were counted watching); Part II attracted 26.5 rating (or 19.3 million households); Part III attracted 23.7 rating (or 17.3 million households); Part IV attracted 24.6 rating (or 17.9 million households) and Part V was the No. 2 most watched program of the week. At the time 'Three's Company' was the highest-rated show on television. It was reported in March 1972 Mirisch Productions bought the film rights to 'Wheels' with the motion picture going to be released by United Artists.

Lee Remick played Rock Hudson's alcoholic on-screen wife told Associated Press and 'Knight News Service', "Erica is rich and lonely. Her being spoiled is not as significant as her wealth and loneliness and lack of fulfillment with her husband, who is wedded to his work. Some of our (American) restrictions are silly. The English system quite frankly is healthier. Here, if a husband and wife in a drama have a fight and they say 'damn', it's frowned upon. They might be allowed one 'hell' in a half hour. Yet, we all use the words and know them. Sometimes they're the best way to express anger. One only needs to pick up a magazine and there they are."

Director Jerry London was a well-known name in Hollywood production circles. He told 'United Press International', "There are 150 speaking roles in 'Wheels'. The stars are Rock Hudson, Lee Remick and Tony Franciosa and with a budget of $8 million and a 500-page script, you aren't going to find many bigger movie properties. On most TV movies the director tries to shoot as many pages of the script a day as he can, averaging about 10 pages a day.

"Some movie directors get through only 3 or 4 pages. I averaged 7 pages a day on 'Wheels'. I feel as if I directed the equivalent of three $3 million features. This time the studio wanted one director because we had to shoot out of continuity on locations. It would have been almost impossible to have 2 or more directors trying to intercut their individual scenes.

"The movie-TV difference lies in the amount of time allotted for movies and the big budgets. Established movie directors get a percentage of their films' box-office profits which is, of course, impossible for television projects. I've been under the gun for 10 years (since 1969 'Hogan's Heroes'). I've had to deal with all possible situations. I figure I’ve done the equivalent of 50 features.

"Movie directors today (in 1978) don't turn out that much product in their entire careers. It's true the prime consideration in hiring a TV director is the demand to 'bring it in on time and on budget'. But the key separating one director from another is how well you can bring a project in within the time and budget span. If I get more production values on the screen than the next guy it's due to planning.

"My editing background helps because I don’t shoot anything I don't need. I plan so thoroughly I never miss a shot I really want. On 'Wheels' I requested and got rehearsals with the actors, 3 days of readings with the principals before I started to shoot – a real TV luxury." As reported, "Jerry London brought 'Wheels' in on budget and one day under schedule."

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