The Temptations (miniseries)

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The Temptations
Genre Miniseries
Screenplay by Robert Johnson
Kevin Arkadie
Directed by Allan Arkush
Starring Charles Malik Whitfield
D.B. Woodside
Terron Brooks
Christian Payton
Tina Lifford
Jenifer Lewis
Gina Ravera
Obba Babatundé
J. August Richards
Vanessa Bell Calloway
Christopher Reid
Mel Jackson
Smokey Robinson
Alan Rosenberg
Narrated by Charles Malik Whitfield
Theme music composer Smokey Robinson
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of episodes 2
Producer(s) Jay Benson
Otis Williams
Shelly Berger
Editor(s) John Duffy
Neil Mandelberg
Cinematography Jamie Anderson
Running time approx. 88 min. per episode
Production company(s) de Passe Entertainment
Hallmark Entertainment
Babelsberg International Film Produktion
Distributor Hallmark Entertainment
Lions Gate (2001 home video)
Vivendi Entertainment (2001 home video)
Original network NBC
Original release November 1 (1998-11-01) – November 2, 1998 (1998-11-02)

The Temptations is a four-hour television miniseries broadcast in two-hour halves on NBC, based upon the history of one of Motown's longest-lived acts, The Temptations. Executive produced by former Motown executive Suzanne de Passe, produced by Otis Williams and Temptations manager Shelley Berger, and based upon Williams’ Temptations autobiography, the miniseries was originally broadcast on November 1 and November 2, 1998. It was filmed on location in Pittsburgh, PA in the spring of 1998. Allan Arkush was the miniseries’ director.


The miniseries was based upon Otis Williams’ book; as such, it came from his perspective: the focus of the story tended to be on Williams and Melvin Franklin, with David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks seen as antagonists for much of the second half (although Kendricks was still given a more sympathetic portrayal than Ruffin). Dennis Edwards was not heavily focused upon, nor was much said of the problems he later had with Otis Williams. Nevertheless, the miniseries gave a general overview of both the history of the group and that of Motown, and, thanks to de Passe's connection, the film was able to use authentic props and locations.

A number of liberties were taken with factual events for dramatization purposes:

  • In the film, Melvin Franklin apparently dies outside of the kitchen in his mother's house. In reality, he died from heart failure at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center after being admitted following a series of seizures.[1] As Franklin's death was still fresh in the minds of the miniseries' creators (he died in 1995), it was decided that the miniseries would not present Franklin's death as it actually occurred.
  • Also, David Ruffin was not found dead (being unceremoniously dumped) near a hospital, and then taken to a morgue where he would not be properly identified for a week. Instead, he had suffered a drug overdose, and was taken to the hospital by his chauffeur who notified attending staff of Ruffin's identity; Ruffin died in the hospital and his body was later claimed by his family.[2]
  • Another inaccuracy is the depiction of Ruffin, Kendricks and Edwards performing together before the 1982 reunion tour; in reality, Ruffin and Kendricks did not start performing together until 1985, with Edwards joining them in 1989 after the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[3]

As a result, Otis Williams and the producers would be sued by several people portrayed in the film and their families, notably Melvin Franklin's mother and the children and estate of David Ruffin.

Although the movie is set mostly in Detroit and Los Angeles, the producers chose to shoot the film in Pittsburgh, presumably to take advantage of the many different architectural and geographical looks that Pittsburgh offers. de Passe Entertainment had, some six years earlier, shot The Jacksons: An American Dream in Pittsburgh as well.


Part one (November 1, 1998)[edit]

The story begins in 1958 when Otis Williams, a black teenager living in Detroit, Michigan, is running to meet his friend Elbridge "Al" Bryant at a musical performance by The Cadillacs, where Otis and the singer lock eyes, which he credits as the moment he devoted his life to music. Otis' stepfather Edgar is less than pleased with Otis' plans to become a singer instead of an assembly line worker, but his mother Haze is supportive.

Six months later, Otis, Al, and two other teenage boys - Richard Street and James "Pee-Wee" Crawford - have started a group, Otis Williams & the Siberians, though Otis quickly recruits a fifth member when he hears bass singer, Melvin Franklin, singing with the Voice Masters on a street corner. Once Melvin gets permission from his mother, Rose, he becomes the bass singer for the Siberians.

On the way home from school one day, Otis and the group follow a group of female classmates while singing "Earth Angel". Otis takes a liking to one of the girls, Josephine, whom he begins dating.

The next Saturday, the Siberians hear a radio DJ requesting them by name to come to the radio station. Arriving at the station, the DJ leads the group to a run-down recording studio downstairs. Johnnie Mae Matthews, who owns the studio, reveals herself as the person who'd summoned the Siberians. She declares herself their new manager and producer, changes their name to "Otis Williams & the Distants"‘‘, and records their first single, "Come On".

In April 1960, the Distants are booked to perform as an opening act for Motown Records act Smokey Robinson & The Miracles at a sock hop. Also booked as an opening act are The Distants' rivals The Primes - Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks - and their sister group The Primettes - Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, and Diane Ross. Eager to meet Motown founder Berry Gordy, Otis and Melvin corner Gordy in the bathroom after their performance and get his business card.

Once the party ends, Johnnie Mae shows up in a new car emblazoned with the Distants' name, bought with the money earned from sales of "Come On". Awestruck, the Distants innocently ask about their share of the money, which angers Johnnie Mae to the point that she fires them on the spot, keeping the money, car, and group name for herself. Al, Richard, and Pee-Wee promptly quit as well.

Shortly after, Melvin approaches Otis and tells him that Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams recently left The Primes and are interested in joining with them. Otis is reluctant to let them join, as he finds them arrogant and cocky, but ultimately accepts when Al rejoins the group. With this new line-up, the group renames themselves "The Elgins". Eddie and Paul prove to be valuable members; Paul teaches them how to dance and becomes their unofficial choreographer, while Eddie becomes their falsetto singer.

In March 1961, The Elgins go to Motown's Hitsville USA in hopes of a record deal, which Berry Gordy offers - with the stipulation that they come up with a better group name while they wait for an audition. After sitting outside the studio for hours waiting to be called in and thinking up a new name, a secretary named Martha Reeves finds them outside and calls them in to meet Berry, who approves of their new name, "The Temptations". After hearing them perform "Oh Mother of Mine" (which would become their debut single for Motown), Berry enthusiastically signs them under the Motown label. Leaving Hitsville in high spirits, reality hits when Otis arrives home and Josephine informs him she is pregnant, leading them to get married before Josephine gives birth to their son Lamont.

For several years, The Temptations' career at Motown suffers from a string of underperforming records, though Gordy assigns Smokey Robinson to write and produce for the group and Cholly Atkins to revise Paul's choreography. The group starts to doubt their talents, while Al starts to lose his passion for singing, becoming more negative and volatile. This comes to a head during the 1964 Motown New Year's party, where Al and Paul get into a fight backstage after a performance and Al breaks a bottle across Paul's face. Otis fires Al on the spot, and the Temptations go on as a quartet to perform "Shout" as an encore. Two of their Motown colleagues, Jimmy Ruffin and his brother David, join the group onstage, with David's performance skills particularly impressing the group. David is invited to join the group, which he readily accepts.

A few days after the new year, the group head to Hitsville to record a song written for them by Smokey Robinson, "The Way You Do the Things You Do". The song becomes an instant hit and puts the Temptations on the map. Shortly after the song hits the charts, the group, along with labelmates such as The Miracles, The Supremes, Mary Wells, Martha & the Vandellas, and Marvin Gaye, tour the eastern United States and the Jim Crow-era southern United States as part of Motown's Motor Town Revue. While on tour, Otis begins an affair with Florence Ballard of The Supremes, putting strain on his marriage with Josephine.

In November 1964, Smokey writes a Temptations song for David to sing lead on, "My Girl". The song becomes a massive success in 1965, reaching number one on the charts and leading to appearances on television. The group enjoys their newfound success and wealth, spending money on themselves and their loved ones. With this success, however, soon comes trouble. By early 1966, David starts to develop an ego, thinking himself to be solely responsible for the Temptations' success. He also begins using drugs and starts showing up late for rehearsals and meetings, if at all. When Otis and Melvin go to David's house to urge him to straighten up, David declares that the group instead should change its name to "David Ruffin & the Temptations".

In the meantime, Berry Gordy hires a new manager for both the Temptations and The Supremes, a white man named Shelly Berger. Despite some reluctance from the group - especially Paul - Shelly works to expand the Temptations' fanbase to the mainstream white audience.

The group is eventually set to debut at the Copacabana nightclub in New York City, but David is nowhere to be found at showtime and the group goes on as a foursome. David shows up midway through their first number, and before they perform their song, "(I Know) I'm Losing You", he introduces himself by declaring to the Copa audience "I'm David Ruffin...and these are the Temptations." Fed up, Otis, Paul, and Melvin vote David out of the group, with only Eddie voting to keep David. After David is formally fired in mid-1968, Melvin turns to his groupmates and rhetorically asks, "so now what"?

Part two (November 2, 1998)[edit]

Later in 1968, the Temptations hire Dennis Edwards, an old friend, as a replacement for David.

It is around this time that the group enters their psychedelic soul era, started with their 1968 single "Cloud Nine". During a concert performance, the group is about to sing "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" when David jumps on stage stealing the microphone from Dennis, and sings himself. The others go along with this to save face. Then, David runs off stage with a pissed off Otis and the other Temptations chasing him. They get into a brief argument before getting security guards to escort Ruffin out.

By 1969, The Temptations have won their first Grammy for Best R&B Performance for "Cloud Nine" but unfortunately, Paul's drinking becomes debilitating. As Paul's condition gets progressively worse, the others begin to consider whether Paul should retire, at least for the time being. Eddie is against this, as he thinks that they should stick by Paul and be with him at all times, making sure he doesn't drink. Around this time Melvin develops rheumatoid arthritis in the legs and starts taking cortisone shots to ease the symptoms (Melvin and Paul continue performing in the meantime) while Otis and Josephine divorce.

In November 1970, Eddie visits David, who begins to turn him against Otis and Melvin while giving him his first shot of cocaine. Shortly after, Paul becomes well enough to sing again, and the Temptations record a new song written by their producer Norman Whitfield titled "Just My Imagination". Eddie quits the group after performing the song at the Copacabana angered that Paul is still declared not ready to tour with the group again and another singer, returning former Distants member Richard Street, is put in his place. Later, Otis and his son Lamont visit Paul at his house. Paul asks to be back in the Temptations, while demonstrating his dancing, almost falling over. Otis tells him that he will be back when he gets better.

In June 1972, Whitfield writes another song called "Papa Was a Rolling Stone", which the group are initially against recording due to Otis feeling it's not a ballad and Dennis because his father died on the third of September. Eventually, the group goes along with it. In a montage set to the song, David and Eddie are seen performing and Paul is seen struggling with his addiction, while fighting with his wife, and later driving around town, ending with Paul committing suicide in a parking lot in 1973. Eddie reunites with the others at the funeral, with Melvin telling him that while he's out of the group, they will always be family.

By 1977, the Temptations have moved from Detroit to Los Angeles and have been hit with a dry spell in their career. The group, now with Otis and Melvin as the only remaining original members, fire Shelly as their manager, leave the Motown label and start recording under the Atlantic Records label. Eddie is still under the Motown label and has made two major hits, while David, who has had some hits after the Temptations, is also under a dry spell. One day, while Melvin is helping a woman with her grocery bags, a thief gets in his car and tries to start it. When Melvin tries to stop him, the thief shoots him in both of his legs, kicks him out, and drives off in his car. Melvin tells Otis to go on tour without him, as they need the money. After the tour, Otis goes back to Detroit with Lamont to visit his mother, who tells him that she has cancer. They then have a heart-to-heart on the porch.

In 1980, Melvin's legs are still recovering and the Temptations leave Atlantic Records. Eddie's success is starting to fade and he is reduced to playing in small nightclubs. While performing one night, Eddie spots David in the audience and once he finishes the song "Keep On Truckin'", brings David on stage and they sing "You're My Everything" together. After everyone leaves the club, Eddie and David have a drink at the bar and agree to start their own faction of the Temptations, along with Dennis Edwards, who was fired from the Temptations in 1978. Meanwhile, Otis and Melvin move back to Detroit, go back under the Motown label and rehire Shelly as their manager, and perform as the original Temptations.[4]

Not long after, Motown becomes interested in setting up a reunion tour between both sets of the Temptations. By 1982, the tour is officially underway and both sets of Temptations come together to rehearse and become reacquainted. However, Otis (in a voiceover) mentions that the idea for a reunion tour should have remained just that – an idea: while on tour, Josephine calls and informs Otis that Lamont died in a construction accident and David relapses into drug use.

In 1989, the Temptations are inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. At the ceremony, Otis and Melvin are reunited with David, Eddie, and Dennis. Despite their past squabbles and rivalries, the members congratulate each other on their induction and remember Paul.

In June 1991, a dead body is found in front of a hospital. After a week in the morgue, the body is finally identified as that of David Ruffin, dead of an apparent drug overdose.[5]

The ensuing scene shifts to February 1995. Mama Rose has prepared a large dinner for the entire group; however, only Otis and Melvin (now reduced to a wheelchair) visit Mama Rose. Eddie's death from lung cancer is remembered in the scene.[6] While preparing to eat dinner, Melvin, despite being in a wheelchair, volunteers to get short ribs from the kitchen. While he's gone, Melvin's mother thanks Otis for taking care of Melvin and keeping the Temptations together through all the good and bad times. The two then call for Melvin, but he doesn't respond. They go into the kitchen (though not shown it is implied that he is found dead).[7] Many people show up at the funeral, including Smokey Robinson, who sings his song "Really Gonna Miss You".

The film ends with the "Classic Five" Temptations (Otis, Melvin, Eddie, Paul, and David) in their youth, singing "My Girl" on a stage. At the end of the song, they take a bow, with Otis saying in a voice-over "Temptations, forever."


The miniseries was a ratings success, and Arkush won a 1999 Emmy award for Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries or a Movie. The miniseries has been subsequently rerun on the VH-1 cable television network and released to VHS and DVD. The VHS release notably omitted a few scenes which had previously aired on the television premiere. One such scene includes David Ruffin, clearly under the influence of drugs and his ego, becoming belligerent during a picnic celebration with the other members of the group. The removal of this scene is possibly due to the ensuing suit.

Otis Williams' ex-wife Josephine Miles, Melvin Franklin's mother Rose Franklin, Johnnie Mae Matthews, and on David Ruffin's behalf, the Ruffin family, filed suit against Williams, Shelly Berger, David V. Picker, Motown, De Passe Entertainment, Hallmark Entertainment, and NBC for use of their likenesses in the film, defamation of character, and emotional distress because of the inaccurate depictions of events.[8] They also alleged that the miniseries misportrayed them and/or their relatives and twisted facts. The judges ruled in favor of the defendants, and the ruling was upheld when the plaintiffs appealed in 2001.[9] Otis Williams later claimed that while his book was the source material for the film, he did not have a great deal of control over how the material was presented.


Classic Five Members and relatives[edit]

  • Charles Malik Whitfield as Otis Williams, founder and leader of Otis Williams & the Distants and later The Temptations. He conflicts with some of his group mates, particularly David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks, over group leadership. Otis Williams is the only original member of The Temptations who is still living, and still performs with the group.
  • D.B. Woodside as Melvin "Blue" Franklin, Otis' best friend, and a member of both Otis Williams & the Distants and The Temptations for over four decades. Shy and soft-spoken, he secretly struggles with arthritis over the years. Outside of founding member Otis Williams, Franklin was the only member of the Temptations who did not quit the group or be fired during his tenure; Franklin died in 1995 (the miniseries portrays his death as occurring at his mother's home; in real life he fell into a coma while hospitalized following a series of seizures).
  • Terron Brooks as Eddie "Cornbread" Kendricks, a member of The Primes and The Temptations' original first tenor/falsetto and co-lead singer. After quitting the group in 1971, Eddie becomes a solo singer and later joins forces with fellow ex-Temptation David Ruffin. Kendricks died of lung cancer in 1992 (this event is not portrayed in the miniseries, but is referenced near the end of Part Two).
  • Christian Payton as Paul Williams, a member of The Primes and the Temptations' original lead singer, who succumbs to alcoholism and poor health, forcing his retirement from the act in 1971. Paul Williams committed suicide in his car after an argument in 1973 (the miniseries dramatically and somewhat accurately portrays his death, though in real life he was found dead in an alley and not in a parking lot as portrayed).
  • Leon as David Ruffin, The Temptations' lead singer from 1964 to 1968, whose ego leads the others to force him out of the group. Ruffin died of a drug overdose in 1991 (the miniseries portrays him as having his dead body dumped in front of a hospital and becoming a "John Doe" in the city morgue for a week until recognized; in real life he was found dead by his chauffeur, taken to a hospital, and identified to attendants, and his body claimed by family members shortly thereafter).

Other Temptations Members[edit]



Year Award Result Category Recipient
1999 Motion Picture Sound Editors Won Best Sound Editing - Television Mini-Series - Music Kevin Crehan (music editor) and Tom Villano (music and scoring editor) (For episode "Night One")
Best Sound Editing - Television Mini-Series - Dialogue & ADR Suzanne Angel, Mark Friedgen, G. Michael Graham, Anton Holden, Kristi Johns, Mark R. La Pointe, Michael Lyle, Scott A. Tinsley, and Tim Terusa (For episode "Night One")
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Television Movie or Mini-Series
Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries or a Movie Allan Arkush


  1. ^ Oliver, Myrna (February 25, 1995). "Obituaries : Melvin Franklin; Temptations' Original Bass Vocalist". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 17, 2013. 
  2. ^ "David Ruffin, 50, An Original Singer In the Temptations". The New York Times. June 2, 1991. Retrieved February 17, 2013. 
  3. ^ "Drama vs. Reality."
  4. ^ In reality, Ruffin and Kendricks did not form their own duo until 1985, and Edwards would not join them until 1989.
  5. ^ This scene is not factually accurate: in real life, Ruffin was discovered by his chauffeur, taken to a hospital, and identified by the driver to waiting attendants. Ruffin's family would claim the body shortly thereafter.
  6. ^ Eddie Kendricks died in October 1992.
  7. ^ This scene is also factually inaccurate: in real life, Franklin had been hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center after a series of seizures; while hospitalized he fell into a coma and never awakened.
  8. ^ "Two Lawsuits Are Filed Against 'Temptations' Miniseries". Jet. April 5, 1999. Retrieved April 13, 2013. 
  9. ^ Cheryl Ruffin-Steinback, et al. v. Suzanne de Passe, et al. Appeal filed September 28, 2001 in United States court of Appeals.

External links[edit]