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January 14th,  2018   -   The Commercial Appeal   /   Elvis Express Radio
Elvis fan Lynn Ray from Basingstoke, England [Left image] looks around a new exhibit at Graceland Wednesday afternoon. Hollywood Backlot features sets and items from the production of the short-lived 2017
CMT Network series Sun Records. [Right] Elvis fan Bob Barr from Branson, Missouri looks around a new exhibit at Graceland Wednesday afternoon. Hollywood Backlot features sets and items from the
production of the short-lived 2017 CMT Network series Sun Records.  (Photo: Jim Weber/The Commercial Appeal)

If you can't salvage the TV show, at least you can salvage the sets.

And thus, "Sun Records" — the eight-episode drama about the Memphis-based birth of rock-and-roll that aired last year on the CMT network — has been resurrected, as a physical
space if not an ongoing enterprise.

For now, this space — which includes recreations of the Memphis Recording Service studio and foyer, the WHBQ radio studio, the hallways of the Chisca Hotel, the office of Sun
founder Sam Phillips — is intended to be occupied by tourists, rather than actors.

The rooms are to be looked at, not lived in. The dice on disc jockey Dewey Phillips' desk are to be studied, not tossed; the vintage ash trays hold memories, not cigarette butts.

In an area creatively if imprecisely labeled "Hollywood Backlot," the sets created for the made-in-Memphis television program have become the latest exhibit at Elvis Presley's
Memphis, the $45-million, 200,000-square-foot museum and entertainment complex that opened in March on Elvis Presley Boulevard, across the street from the Graceland mansion.
"When you think that Graceland is the house that Elvis built and Sun Records is the house that built Elvis, you figure you got to marry 'em together," said Leslie Greif, producer of
"Sun Records," scheduled to be Memphis on Friday to view his re-purposed sets , given to Graceland on a "permanent loan" basis.

If not for Graceland, "honestly, the sets were going to be torn apart and thrown into the dumpster," said Jack Soden, chief executive officer at Elvis Presley Enterprises, the
corporate entity that manages Graceland and other Elvis-affiliated businesses.

"It helps tell the Elvis story," Gary Hahn, Graceland vice president of marketing and media, said of the "Sun Records" sets, which offer a sort of time-travel walking tour for visitors.
"They also reveal a little bit about how film productions happen."

Dedicated on Elvis' Jan. 8 birthday, the exhibit occupies 10,000 square feet of Elvis Presley's Memphis. As a reminder of Presley's early years, it shares a large room with the
smallish "Elvis' Tupelo" display, and is adjacent to "Mystery Train: The Sam Phillips Exhibit."

For "Sun Records," the transition from ballyhooed production to on-the-air television program to museum piece was remarkably swift. In comparison, Archie Bunker's chair was
donated to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History seven years after the premiere of "All in the Family," while Fonzie's leather jacket entered that collection six years
after Henry Winkler's "Happy Days" debut.

“One of the most disheartening experiences of my career was not being able to continue this saga," said Greif, who was unable to find a new home for "Sun Records" after CMT
pulled the plug.

Originally titled "Million Dollar Quartet" (the name given to the epochal Dec. 4, 1956, meeting of Sun stars Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis), "Sun
Records" was shot over some 70 days in Memphis in 2016. Directed by two-time Oscar nominee Roland Joffe ("The Killing Fields"), its eight episodes followed multiple characters in
multiple locations, "Game of Thrones"-style, but with all roads leading to 706 Union Avenue rather than to King's Landing.

The young ensemble cast included Chad Michael Murray as Sam Phillips, Drake Milligan as Elvis, Billy Gardell as Colonel Tom Parker, Keir O'Donnell as "Daddy-O" Dewey Phillips,
Margaret Anne Florence as Sun associate Marion Keisker, Kerry Holliday as Ike Turner and Kevin Fonteyne as Johnny Cash, to name only a few.

Touted as a possible catalyst for a resurgent Memphis film industry, the series employed close to 160 Tennessee residents. Its presence made the 2015-2016 fiscal year the most
successful in Memphis history in terms of production expenditures: Led by "Sun Records," filmmakers spent $8.5 million locally that year, a record amount that topped even the
"Hollywood on the Mississippi" years when such major movies as "The Firm" and "The Rainmaker" were shot here.

Earning a coveted CMT time slot after the hit series “Nashville" (a transplant from ABC), the debut episode of “Sun Records” attracted a total of about 2 million viewers for its initial
three airings. But the show's loyal but smallish fan base was not enough to save the costly scripted series after corporate parent Viacom restructured CMT in a cost-cutting movie
that returned the basic cable network to its inexpensive roots in reality and music programming.

Interviews with tourists at the "Sun Records" sets this week suggests the program's target audience wasn't aware of what it was missing. Most people said they had never heard of
the show.

"We didn't even know about it," said Bob Barr, 62, visiting from Branson, Missouri.

"Now, if this was on Netflix, we'd watch it in no time," added Dawn Hupke, 66.

Overseas viewers also were unaware of this potential American import.

Jenny Haycroft and family were making their first Graceland visit from Australia, and they said Memphis was their chief point of interest in the U.S. on a 'round-the-world tour that
included stops in Singapore, Abu Dhabi, Rome, Munich, Paris, Madrid and London.

"She's a mad Elvis fan," said husband Geoff Haycroft, 63. "She cried at the grave," added grandson Logan Haycroft, 10. "I got so emotional," confirmed Jenny.

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