"I HOPE A LOT OF ME ISN'T IN Roberta; she's a little tough to take," says Diane Keaton of Roberta Blum-stein, the coldly neurotic Broadway reservations agent she plays in the Disney Channel's 90-minute drama Northern Lights (Sat., Aug. 23, 7 p.m. ET). Even so, beyond her comical klutziness, Roberta—who is appalled to learn that her late brother has left her custody of his 9-year-old son (Joseph Cross)—has tendencies Keaton instantly recognized. "I'm outspoken, stubborn and willful like her," she concedes. Moved by the John Hoffman script after it was submitted to her production company in 1995, Keaton, 51 and a doting single mother to her adopted daughter Dexter, shopped it to various movie studios. "I wouldn't quit," she says. "The material meant too much to me."
Switching to TV, where she had previously starred as Amelia Earhart in a 1994 TNT movie, Keaton soon scored with Disney, which not only agreed to let the Oscar-winning actress star in Lights but even let her help cast the other roles as a first-time executive producer. "Diane always had a third eye that's watching everything," says Keaton's costar Maury Chaykin, who plays her brother's college roommate. Keaton is now looking to produce another new script, Not Waving, about a mother and her manic-depressive daughter. "It's about characters who are enriched by each other and all those things that people go Zzzzzz when they hear," she says, laughing. "But those are the things I'm attracted to."