News

'Knee' Bent on Historical Saga

In TV Movie Category, True Stories Offer Strong Competition

"Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" -- the adaptation of Dee Brown's 36-year-old book about the defeat of General Custer and the ensuing decimation of the Sioux nation -- garnered 17 nominations for HBO, leading all contenders in this year's Emmy race and tying the record for a made-for-television movie, set in 1977 by ABC's "Eleanor and Franklin."

Going up against "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" for the TV movie trophy is another look at American history, albeit a more recent glimpse.

"Inside the Twin Towers" is a foray into new territory for Discovery Channel: a dramatized version of what took place Sept. 11, 2001, at the World Trade Center, interspersed with actual footage and interviews with survivors and family members of those who died in the attack.

"There are a lot of ways to tell a story, and we were committed to telling this one," said Bill Howard, executive producer for Discovery Channel. "We wanted to take a serious look at what happened on Sept. 11, and we said, 'Do we want to do it as a straight documentary, or do we want to try and bring these characters to life?'"

Once the producers had made the decision to go for the dramatization, writer Andrew Bampfield started interviewing survivors. Director Richard Dale took the interviews and a crew of designers and carpenters and reconstructed what the insides of the buildings looked like on Sept. 11.

"We wanted to tell this in a sensitive way and from the people who were really there," Mr. Howard said. "Then we aired it without a tremendous amount of promotion and the audience just found it. ... We got great ratings from it. It was a risky thing for Discovery to do.

"This is kind of a defining moment at the beginning of this century," he added. "Everyone has their own overview of what happened that day. We didn't want to do [the film] just to be provocative. Before it premiered, we showed it to all the families in New York [who had been involved in the project]. When the film ended, everyone sat there for a good four minutes, and you don't know -- are they unhappy? And then people just got up and came over and said, 'That's how it was. That's just how it was that day.'"

If Discovery set out to explore new terrain, Lifetime elected to do what it does best: tell stories about women.

"Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy" is adapted from the memoir by Geralyn Lucas, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at 27 and now is Lifetime's director of public affairs, working on the network's breast cancer awareness program.

"We found the book by pure good fortune," said Linda Kent, who executive produced the film with partner Jack Grossbart. "We took one look at it and said this is a movie if there ever was one. We assumed that Lifetime was just waiting for the day when someone would walk in and want to do this book.

"She had survived. She had children. Their response was immediate, and not just because it was Geralyn, who did not work at the network when she wrote the book," she added.

If Ms. Kent was drawn to the book primarily because of its subject matter, Mr. Grossbart was just as attracted by the humor and spunk.

That humor is translated onto the screen via Nancey Silvers' script, including a scene in which Ms. Lucas -- played by "Scrubs'" Sarah Chalke -- tries on a bra after her mastectomy and sees in a dressing room mirror just how lopsided she is now. Not everyone would find that funny, but there's no denying the spunk.

"So many other movies about breast cancer, they're so intense. Geralyn kept a sense of humor. Her courage came through the humor," said Mr. Grossbart.

And then there's the matter of the lipstick: Ms. Lucas considered it war paint in the battle of her life.

To fit the film into Ms. Chalke's "Scrubs" schedule, yet finish it in time to be the centerpiece of Lifetime's Breast Cancer Awareness Month, meant they had only 16 days to prep.

"That was the toughest part," Mr. Grossbart said. "We knew the picture was going to air in October. When Sarah said yes, the director [Peter Werner] jumped on a plane to Toronto that night. Then for insurance purposes -- in case the shoot went over schedule -- we had to have five business days between our shoot and the start of 'Scrubs.' So we had to convert to six-day weeks in order to get it all done in time."

Rounding out the nominees are HBO's "Longford," about the British earl who befriended, to his grief, accused child killer Myra Hindley during her trial for murder in the 1960s; and TNT's "The Ron Clark Story," about a white Southerner who moved to New York to teach inner-city kids.

Post a comment