- The Washington Times - Friday, February 27, 2009

‘Chance’ boosts HBO

While Hollywood focused on the Oscars last weekend, HBO shattered a creative-community losing streak that has claimed about a dozen movie and TV projects in recent years.

From star-studded films to low-budget documentaries, efforts to tackle the ongoing war in Iraq have struggled to find an audience, the Hollywood Reporter notes. Then, on Feb. 21, HBO premiered “Taking Chance,” which drew 2 million viewers and became the most-watched original movie to premiere on the premium network in five years, THR says.

“Chance” stars Kevin Bacon as a military escort officer accompanying the body of a Marine corporal killed in Iraq. The fact-based story is sober and stark, with some scenes consisting merely of a man and a coffin. Critics were mostly positive, but the consensus was far from universal.

Nevertheless, not since HBO’s “Something the Lord Made” in 2004 have more viewers tuned in for an HBO original movie.

Although titles such as “Three Kings” found some success after the conclusion of the first Gulf War, Hollywood’s repeated efforts to tell stories about the current conflict have almost entirely been met with a cold shoulder from viewers. “Chance” likely was aided by tackling the generic theme of sacrifice rather than critiquing U.S. foreign policy and by setting its action mostly stateside rather than abroad.

“Wars in progress are usually pretty divisive, and television tries to be anything but divisive,” says TV historian Tim Brooks. “If it’s over long enough, you can do a ‘M*A*S*H’ or a ‘China Beach.’ I do think there’s a little window of opportunity for movies or series where the focus is clearly not on the battles, but on the soldiers who everybody wants to support.”

He also points to Lifetime’s successful “Army Wives,” about life on a military base, which has occasional worried-wife moments when a spouse is serving overseas.

Meanwhile, some of the pilots under consideration for fall touch on the war as well. CBS’ “Back,” NBC’s “Mercy” and CBS’ “House Rules” are among those with characters who have returned from a tour of duty.

A noteworthy TV One

It’s all about the music on TV One tomorrow afternoon, when the Silver Spring-based cable network offers a mixture of documentary and fact-based dramas.

First up: Little Richard (airing at noon), the 2000 biopic about the self-proclaimed architect of rock ‘n’ roll, with Leon (“The Temptations,” “Waiting to Exhale”) in the title role. Directed by Robert Townsend, the film follows the rock and soul legend (born Richard Wayne Penniman) from his early days of poverty in the South to the trials and tribulations of being a black singer in the 1950s, to his born-again phase and brief retirement from rock ‘n’ roll and his eventual return.

Next, the documentary James Brown: The Man, the Music, the Message (2 p.m.) offers rarely seen footage of the soul music icon and those who admired him — including a tearful Michael Jackson paying tribute to the Godfather of Soul. Others interviewed about how Mr. Brown, who died in 2007, inspired their careers include MC Hammer and Bobby Brown. The program also features segments of major concert events throughout Mr. Brown’s career and a recent public memorial service at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem.

Back-to-back episodes of Unsung, TV One’s acclaimed series about nearly forgotten R&B artists of the 1970s and ‘80s, follow at 3:30 p.m. with a bird’s-eye view of DeBarge, Donny Hathaway, Phyllis Hyman and the Clark Sisters.

At 5:30 p.m., it’s The Five Heartbeats, director Townsend’s 1991 tale of an inner-city doo-wop group that hit the big time while also encountering the problems that come with fortune and fame.

Finally, part one of The Jacksons: An American Dream caps off TV One’s musical interlude at 8 p.m. Part two of the 1992 made-for-TV film — starring Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Angela Bassett and Holly Robinson Peete — airs Sunday at 8 p.m.

Also this weekend:

Friday

Independent Lens (10:30 p.m., WETA-Channel 26) — Tonight’s segment, titled “Banished,” recalls the forced evictions of black families from their homes in the years after the Civil War. It focuses on such occurrences in Harrison, Ark.; Forsyth County, Ga.; and Pierce City, Mo. Saturday

America (9 p.m., Lifetime) — No, it isn’t a patriotic tale about the nation; it’s the story of a biracial teen named America (Philip Johnson) who finds himself in a treatment facility after a suicide attempt. There he meets Dr. Maureen Brennan (Rosie O’Donnell), who gets him to open up about his painful past and offers the support and courage he needs for a successful future. Ruby Dee co-stars as the foster mother who raised the troubled teenager. Based on the 2002 novel “America” by E.R. Frank.

Sunday

Big Love ( 9 p.m., HBO) — Treading on dangerous ground at home and at work, Nicki (Chloe Sevigny) endures a domestic “intervention” by Bill (Bill Paxton) and Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn), followed by an unwelcome office visit by Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin).

Written and compiled by Robyn-Denise Yourse from staff, Web and wire reports

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