The Hunt for Michael Moore's TV Window
September 20, 2004 12:00 AM
A year after he won an Oscar for best documentary ("Bowling For Columbine"), filmmaker Michael Moore chose not to enter his record-breaking documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" in that category because, he wrote Sept. 6 on his Web site, "I have decided it is more important to take that risk and hope against hope that I can persuade someone to put it on TV, even if it's the night before the election." Once a project appears on TV, it becomes ineligible for Oscar consideration. The big hindrance to a TV airing before Nov. 2, Mr. Moore explained, was his home video deal. "Our contract with our DVD distributor says no, it cannot [be shown on broadcast TV before the election]," he wrote. "I have asked them to show it just once, perhaps the night before the election. So far, no deal. But I haven't given up trying." That made us Blink, so we asked his reps for an update. His agent referred us to his PR rep, Sunshine Consultants in New York, who declined to return five phone calls. So we did our own research, which appears to contradict Mr. Moore on several counts. It isn't the DVD distributor, Columbia/TriStar, that's preventing a broadcast; its only concern is that the many extras on the DVD not be aired. Then we made a round of calls to network executives and studio and pay-cable sources. It quickly became clear that in the present political environment, no broadcast or cable network would show it before the vote because of concerns about news balance and advertiser and affiliate fallout. The only possibility would be Showtime, which owns the pay-TV broadcast window starting in 2005. One possibility, Showtime spokesperson Joan Ziff said, is a one-time pay-per-view airing before the election, with Showtime perhaps sharing in the profits. But so far, this has not been negotiated. And according to Ms. Ziff, Mr. Moore had not even contacted Showtime as of late last week.
During a panel discussion last week at the Writers Guild of America, West, featuring Emmy-nominated writers, "The Sopranos" scribe Terence Winter enthralled the audience with his account of being a desperate Brooklyn transplant trying to break into TV by impersonating both a messenger (to drop off his sitcom specs) and an agent (by creating letterhead, a mailbox and a phone service). His semi-shady efforts paid off when one of his specs landed him a shot at writing an episode of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." That led to writing stints on "Xena: Warrior Princess," "The PJs," "The Cosby Mysteries" and others. He joined "The Sopranos" during its second season. When he had to kill off longtime series character Adriana (Drea de Matteo), Mr. Winter could hardly bear it. "When it came time to write the scene I had her death occur off-screen," he said. "She's an actress, but she's also a real person that we all got to know. I just didn't want to see it."
Journalism is a profession with perpetual downsizing, so imagine how some reporters felt last week when they received an authentic-looking pink slip in the mail. The terse "Termination Notice" told recipients they were fired, ordered them to return any company property and warned them not to reveal any "trade secrets, computer lists or other confidential or proprietary information." The stunt was a promotion for "Beat the Boss," a courtroom reality show being offered for syndication in 2005. If reporters were startled by the stunt, spokesperson Sarah Znerold said, that was exactly the point. "We really wanted to come up with a creative hook so people would feel what it's like to be in the shoes of somebody who's fired," Ms. Znerold said.