In 1972, ABC introduced an afternoon television program which is today known as the "ABC Afterschool Specials". This series ran from 1972 to 1997 and each episode was actually produced by a different company.
In 1976, they ran an episode called, "P.J. and the President's Son". This episode was an updated re-telling of the classic Mark Twain novel, The Prince and the Pauper, which was first published in 1881 and was Twain's first attempt at writing in the historical fiction genre. In the novel, a boy named Tom, the son of an abusive pauper, and Prince Henry, the son of King Henry VIII, meet and find out they are exact look-alikes. As they both yearn for a new life they decide to switch places. After a series of events and Tom almost becoming King, they both decide their original lives were not that bad to begin with and switch back. Prince Henry appoints Tom to his royal cabinet and they both live a happy life.
In "P.J. and the President's Son", P.J. is a delivery boy that happens to meet Preston, the son of the United States of America. After meeting and discovering they are also look-alikes, they decide to switch places as P.J. yearns to live a life of luxury and Preston wishes to escape the suffocating grip of the Secret Service. They also both run into chaos which eventually helps them to realize that their original lives were also not so bad after all.
In the movie, Lance Kerwin plays the dual role of P.J and Preston. His career spanned from the 1970's to the 1990's and consisted of mainly television roles. His real-life dad, also plays a small role in the movie. The director, Larry Elikann, directed over 50 different made-for-tv movies in his career. Rosalind Chao, from Star Trek fame, also makes a small appearance as the Ambassador's daughter.
This Afterschool Special may not have been a direct influence of the other modern day adaptations of classic novels, think Clueless, Romeo + Juliet, but it definitely came in a period where this genre was just beginning. Without a doubt, the ABC Afterschool Special series has left it's mark on the generations that spent their weekday afternoons in front of the television set from the 1970's to the late 1990's. "P.J. and the President's Son" is a prime example of how ABC used it's specials to introduce their young audiences to classic literature while teaching them to value their own lives.