- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 4, 2006

Killer virus on ABC

While many series are planning spectacular finales or cliffhangers for the all-important May sweeps, ABC’s “Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America” (airing Tuesday at 8 p.m.) dramatizes a deadly outbreak from its origins in a Hong Kong market through mutation into a virus transmitted by humans around the world.

According to Associated Press, the made-for-TV film — starring Joely Richardson (“Nip/Tuck”), Stacy Keach (“Prison Break”), Ann Cusack (“Grey’s Anatomy”), Justina Machado (“Six Feet Under”), Scott Cohen (“Street Time”) and David Ramsey (“All of Us”) — opens with an American businessman huddling with his Asian manufacturers: 11 meetings in three countries in six days. But before he returns home to Virginia, the Chinese government announces that a new strain of the bird flu virus was discovered in a local marketplace. More than 1.2 million infected birds are killed in an attempt to eradicate this strain.

By then it’s too late. The H5N1 virus has mutated into a version that can spread from human to human across races, nationalities, genders and ages. All too soon, American cities are in quarantine, hospitals are overwhelmed and the National Guard is being deployed to restore order.

Ladies night

If a film about a potentially lethal pandemic seems a bit much to bear, consider two tales about women of yesteryear who beat the odds and, for a time, triumphed.

m On Monday, PBS’ “American Experience” (10 p.m. on WETA-Channel 26) offers a documentary tribute to the real Annie Oakley, the rootin’-tootin real-life Wild West sharpshooter who — just like the famous song from “Annie Get Your Gun” says — really could do anything better than a man.

Her life was the stuff of legend. Born Phoebe Ann Oakley Mozee in Ohio in 1860, she became a star of the Wild West Show at 25 and was “adopted” by the Indian chief Sitting Bull (who dubbed her “Little Sure Shot”). Yet, notes AP, for all her skill with weapons — and her ability to change society’s perception of women as the weaker sex — Oakley, who died in 1926, was a devout peace-loving Quaker who opposed female suffrage.

• Here’s another impressive woman from history: a teenage bride from an obscure German principality who went on to become perhaps the most influential ruler in Russian history. PBS’ “Catherine the Great,” a two-part documentary, traces the life of the girl born Sophie who, at age 14, was summoned with her mother to the Russian court by Empress Elizabeth. Elizabeth chose Sophie as the bride for her sickly nephew and chosen successor, Peter III. Taking the name Catherine, she and Peter were married in 1745, when she was 17.

When Elizabeth died and Peter became czar, Catherine was pregnant with the child of her lover, the war hero Grigory Orloff. Catherine and Orloff, with his brother Alexei Orloff, overthrew Peter. Shortly afterward, Peter was murdered by Alexei Orloff. Catherine was the new, unchallenged Empress of Russia, and she would reign 34 years.

The first part of “Catherine the Great” airs at 10 p.m. Monday (on Maryland Public Television Channel 22) and the conclusion starts at the same time on Monday, May 15.

Second thoughts

Charles Dutton is pondering whether to find a new home for the 10-hour miniseries he’s been developing for HBO — about what happens when millions of black Americans in a separatist movement are given half a state and allowed to secede from the United States.

“HBO seems a little afraid of it,” Mr. Dutton, a Baltimore native and Tony Award-nominee, said in an interview with the Los Angeles Daily News. “It’s very provocative.”

Mr. Dutton says he conceived the idea some 10 years ago, inspired by the way he saw people of color in the Caribbean and Africa treat each other. In his miniseries saga, he says, the separatists are “given a really sweet deal, a multibillion-dollar reparations package — on one condition: They have to take in all the black malcontents in this country, those living below the poverty line, those in prison. The theme of the miniseries is, if given so-called independence with no white man to blame, depend on, etc., will people of color do anything differently from white people? The answer is a resounding no.”

Mr. Dutton says HBO execs have urged him to make his opus into a novel before proceeding with a miniseries. He says he’s getting interest from other entities and will soon decide which way to go. “With this, I’m holding up a mirror to society, and every aspect of the story actually has a historical precedent,” he says.

O to do ‘View’

Oprah Winfrey will make her first appearance on ABC’s daytime talk show “The View” on May 12 to promote her hourlong ABC prime-time special, “Oprah Winfrey’s Legends Ball,” reports MediaWeek.com.

The Winfrey special documents a three-day event — which “View” co-hosts Barbara Walters and Star Jones Reynolds attended — celebrating the lives and work of 25 outstanding black women. It is scheduled to air May 15 at 8 p.m.

Compiled by Robyn-Denise Yourse from Web and wire reports.

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