Education and Early Career

Kevin Sullivan graduated from the University of Toronto in 1979 with an Honours B.Sc in biology. He wrote, produced and directed the one-hour docudrama Kreighof (1980), a special on the life of noted Canadian artist Cornelius Krieghoff. Sullivan married Trudy Grant in 1981, and together they incorporated Sullivan Films (later Sullivan Entertainment). Their first feature was the period drama The Wild Pony (1983), starring Marilyn Lightstone; it was one of the first films made exclusively for Canadian cable television.

Anne of Green Gables

Sullivan is best known for producing, writing and directing the 1985 CBC TV adaptation of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, starring Megan Follows, Colleen Dewhurst, Richard Farnsworth and Jonathan Crombie. The initial broadcast of the miniseries was the highest-rated television drama in Canadian history, with Part 1 drawing 4.9 million viewers and Part 2 attracting 5.2 million — the largest audience for non-hockey broadcasts in CBC history. The miniseries went on to win nine Gemini Awards, an Emmy Award and a Peabody Award. Its success led to three sequels, all written and produced by Sullivan: Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel (1986) and Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story (2000), both featuring the same cast and produced by CBC; and Anne of Green Gables: A new Beginning (2008), produced by CTV and starring Barbara Hershey as a middle-aged Anne. (The last two of these adaptations are a departure from the Green Gables series, featuring characters from Montgomery’s works but entirely different plots.)

When released in Japan, where Montgomery’s books have a huge following, the original miniseries and its sequel were shown together theatrically for more than five years. Sullivan also produced and co-wrote Anne of Green Gables: The Animated Series (2000), an animated adaptation for American public broadcaster PBS.

Other Montgomery Adaptations

Sullivan adapted other Montgomery stories for the hugely popular series Road to Avonlea, which ran on CBC from 1990–96 and launched the career of its star, Sarah Polley. This was followed by the series Wind at My Back (1996–2001), starring Shirley Douglas. Made-for-television movies include Looking for Miracles (1989), Lantern Hill (1989), Butterbox Babies (1995), Under the Piano (1996), Promise the Moon (1997), An Avonlea Christmas (1998) and The Piano Man’s Daughter (2003).

Overall, Sullivan Entertainment productions have been nominated for eight Primetime Emmy Awards, 19 Gemini Awards and six CableACE Awards.

Legal Dispute

In 1999, Lucy Maud Montgomery’s granddaughter, Kate Macdonald Butler, and Montgomery’s daughter-in-law, Ruth Macdonald, publicly disclosed that they had been engaged in a decade-long legal battle with Sullivan over royalties from the Anne of Green Gables miniseries and its sequel. Though the family had received $425,000 for the exclusive rights to produce the miniseries and another $100,000 to produce the sequel in 1986, they had not received 10 per cent of the profits or been permitted to audit Sullivan Entertainment’s books, as contractually agreed, despite more than 40 attempts.

Sullivan claimed that his company had not made a profit from either miniseries, and had actually sued several PBS stations in the US for unpaid broadcasting fees in the early 1990s. He responded to the public condemnation by launching a $55 million defamation suit against the heirs. The suit was dismissed by the Ontario Superior Court in 2004. In her ruling, the judge described Sullivan Entertainment’s bookkeeping as “creative accounting at its very best and very worst — depending on your perspective.”

Other Projects

Sullivan’s book, Beyond Green Gables: Kevin Sullivan's Designscapes (2006), offers a behind-the-scenes description of the making of the Anne series. His documentary Out of the Shadows (2012), narrated by Donald Sutherland, features forensic examinations of famous works of art.

Awards

Gemini Awards

  • Best Dramatic Miniseries (Anne of Green Gables) (1986)
  • Best Writing in a Dramatic Series (Anne of Green Gables) (1986)
  • Most Popular Program (Anne of Green Gables) (1986)
  • Best Dramatic Miniseries (Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel) (1988)
  • Most Popular Program (Road to Avonlea) (1992, 1993)
  • Best TV Movie or Miniseries (Butterbox Babies) (1996)

Others

  • Outstanding Children’s Program (Anne of Green Gables), Primetime Emmy Award (1986)
  • Peabody Award (Anne of Green Gables) (1986)
  • Best Dramatic Series (Road to Avonlea), CableACE Awards (1992, 1994, 1995)
  • Outstanding Children’s Program (Road to Avonlea), Primetime Emmy Award (1993)
  • Best Family Television Movie/Mini-Series (Anne of Green Gables: A New Beginning), Directors Guild of Canada Awards (2009)