The Insider

Oct 15, 2001  •  Post A Comment

A not-so-ha-ha-ha-Halloween
Even as the country is urged to get back to normal, there are constant reminders that “normal” is being redefined on a daily basis. Case in point: “Today’s” annual Halloween costume brawl featuring scads of everyday folk gathered outside the streetside studio in Rockefeller Center hoping that their costumes will earn them a moment of national exposure.
Of course, some think the fiercer competition is among the NBC morning show’s anchors, who plot and plan their costumes in deepest, darkest secrecy each year, then tease each other and the audience endlessly about what awaits. Last Halloween, Matt Lauer made a stupendous entrance as Jennifer Lopez, complete with faux cleavage, fanny padding and Al Roker as Puff Daddy, nee Puffy and now P. Diddy. Katie Couric was dressed as Lucille Ball, and Ann Curry appeared as a knight on horseback.
Because of the generally somber tenor of the times-and the news-since Sept. 11, “Today” anchors are not going to don costumes this year. Still to come is a decision about whether to shelve the viewer costume contest. Look for a real focus on kids.
“The Early Show” on CBS, which has constructed a haunted house on the plaza outside its midtown Manhattan studio, has not settled on Halloween plans for this year. Ditto ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Distance always helps
How did the producers of Fox’s highly anticipated real-time drama “24” deal with a dicey plot twist in which a terrorist blows up an airplane? By putting a little bit of distance between the setup and the fallout, according to a Fox source.
Originally, a female terrorist was shown attaching plastic explosives to the front exit of a commercial airliner, then ejecting from the plane after the door was blown off. The producers cut the scene showing the actual explosion and shot a new scene in which we see the terrorist parachuting safely onto the desert. Behind her, the streaking airliner is shown as a “glowing object sinking into the horizon.”
“I think viewers will be able to draw their own conclusions on the outcome of that, without being affected by it,” said the Fox source. This should mean that Fox and series producers 20th Century Fox Television and Joel Surnow will not have to do any reshooting of subsequent episodes in the series, which unravels on an hour-by-hour basis.
As usual, the issue is power
The Insider was curious whether the national trauma induced on Sept. 11 had any discernible impact on the annual jockeying for position in Entertainment Weekly’s annual “power issue,” which wraps Tuesday and hits newsstands Friday. Assistant Managing Editor Mary Kay Schilling said deciding who went where in the issue hadn’t all been business as usual-the economic roller coaster had made things “shakier” at the titans’ level, and the resurgence of huggable “Friends” only made it harder to predict how dog-eat-dog “Survivor: Africa” would perform in a world fixated on real terrorism.
Even as the magazine staff weighed the possibility of delaying the issue-“We couldn’t, because we had a lot of advertising commitments,” said Ms. Schilling-the lobbyists were calling. “The same people that called last time were the most aggressive,” she said. High on that list are “always the talent agencies,” the editor said … and the occasional producer who has his or her publicist call … and lesser executives.
A number of TV insiders are certain UPN President and CEO Dean Valentine is a lock for the list because (a) transplanted “Buffy” and brand-new “Enterprise” seem to have good traction and (b) it’s an irresistible opportunity for a fresh snarky comment on Mr. Valentine’s unusual career choice to file a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against his own network. “I mean, hello?” Ms. Schilling said.
Hanging in with `The Guardian’
“The Guardian’s” ratings are building each week on CBS, so clearly it is connecting with viewers, including The Insider. However, the subject matter-at-risk kids at the mercy of an overworked and underfunded bureaucracy-doesn’t lend itself to story lines with happy endings, no matter how hard the reluctant guardian angel played by Simon Baker tries to buck the system on behalf of his young clients.
Executive producer David Hollander has drawn his inspiration for “The Guardian” from the child advocacy bureaucracy in Western Pennsylvania, where, Mr. Hollander said, last year some 5,500 children found themselves in need of a legal advocate but where the budget for representing those children was only $750,000.
“If you do the quick math, it’s staggering,” Mr. Hollander said, adding that he was drawn to the ambiguities inherent in deciding between what a child in jeopardy needs and what that child wants. If one is going to explore such ground honestly, he said, “You can’t pick a story that’s on a crash course for a happy ending.”
There will be “a very clarifying episode” that moves the action into the broader context of legal aid at the end of October, which presumably will mean that kids won’t be the only clients tugging at viewers’ heartstrings. “Just hang in there,” Mr. Hollander said. “I think we have some endings that are better than expected. If I just batted out happy, happy, happy, you would not come back.”
Oh, but The Insider would.