- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

USA’s sniper saga

The timing couldn’t be more fortuitous for USA Network. The cable channel debuts its dramatic re-creation of the D.C. sniper crime spree tonight, just as accused sniper John Allen Muhammad is preparing to stand trial for the horrific shootings.

Crime-based movies rushed into production rarely achieve mediocrity, let alone greatness. Emmy-winner Charles S. Dutton has earned early praise for his work as Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose, but it remains to be seen if the film can rise above exploitation.

“D.C. Sniper: 23 Days of Fear,” premieres at 9 tonight on USA.

Blair snitch project

Showtime has given a movie producer the go-ahead to make a “dark comedy” about the Jayson Blair scandal at the New York Times, according to Associated Press.

It’s a fair bet journalists won’t find any of it the least bit funny.

The movie, tentatively titled “The Jayson Blair Project,” is expected to be shown on the pay cable outlet either next year or in early 2005.

Mr. Blair resigned as a reporter on May 1 after filing some three dozen phony or plagiarized stories. The scandal eventually led to the resignation of the paper’s top editors, Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd.

“Although (Mr. Blair) is a real person and there’s a tragic aspect to this, there’s something snarky and odd that is quite comic about the way he operated,” Jon Maas, who is writing the movie, told AP.

Mr. Maas said he sees his movie as something similar to “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” the film based on the autobiography of game show producer Chuck Barris.

“The Jayson Blair Project” is being based partly on articles by former Newsweek writer Seth Mnookin, Showtime said. Mr. Maas would not say whether anyone involved in the scandal would cooperate with him in making the film.

Mr. Blair has signed to write a book about the incident, titled “Burning Down My Master’s House: My Life at the New York Times.”

“I am not paying Jayson Blair one penny,” Mr. Maas said. “I’m not interested in buying the rights to his book. He will not profit financially from this film.”

Mr. Maas was the writer-producer of an earlier Showtime film, “The Last Debate,” about the power of the media and journalistic ethics.

Who says sex sells?

Is the affair over between viewers and NBC’s lubricious “Coupling”?

The sex-obsessed program was a no-show last night in its usual 9:30 p.m. Thursday slot, replaced by an episode of “Whoopi.”

NBC is reportedly giving the show another week off soon, AP reports. That’s never a good sign and often an omen of cancellation to come.

The comedy, an American version of a British hit about six sexually active friends, will be replaced Oct. 30 by an expanded version of “Will & Grace.” Oct. 30 is the first Thursday of the critical November “sweeps” period. “Coupling” will air Oct. 23, the network promises.

Last week, “Coupling” was seen by 10.7 million people, ranking No. 37 for the week in Nielsen Media Research’s rankings — not a strong performance on NBC’s powerful Thursday schedule.

The shows surrounding it, “Will & Grace” and “ER,” drew 14.6 million and 20.1 million, respectively.

Janet’s ‘True’ tale

“Little Janet” is all grown up; she even has a “True Hollywood Story” to call her own.

Sunday’s 8 p.m. premiere of “Janet Jackson: The E! True Hollywood Story” promises the dirt on Miss Jackson’s show business siblings and her battle with depression.

The singer, who by age 19 had a television career and failed marriage (to one-time pop star James Debarge) to call her own, became a pop star of such magnitude that she escaped the shadow of brother Michael.

Fame came at a price, of course, as any fan of these “True Hollywood Stories” can tell you. She endured a manipulative father and bouts with depression before assuming her place among the country’s top-selling acts.

“People expect a lot from me,” Miss Jackson says in archival footage. Others, like sister LaToya, speak on the record about the singer’s rise to the top.

“He pushed his kids into show business,” LaToya Jackson says of their father. “He was determined to have them in there, and he’s done an exceptional job. He was the father that, when he wanted you to do something, you knew you had to do it. You didn’t say ‘No’ to him, you didn’t. You just say, ‘OK’, we’re doing it.’ ”

The special also touches on Miss Jackson’s provocative music and her nine years with ex-husband No. 2, Rene Elizondo.

Whither ‘K Street’?

HBO’s “K Street” epitomizes some of what’s best in the premium channel’s original programming. It’s fresh, edgy and unlike anything you’d find on the broadcast dial.

It’s also pretty dull, which will factor into whether the show returns for another season.

“K Street” debuted last month to strong ratings, but the numbers have been sinking ever since.

Perhaps viewers dwelling outside the Beltway aren’t impressed by the show’s heady array of political guest stars, like Democratic presidential front-runner Howard Dean. More likely, the inner workings of politics just aren’t entertaining — unless a blue dress or a certain Austrian actor is involved.

Credit executive producers George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh for attempting something genuinely novel: a blend of scripted and improvised dialogue detailing stories ripped from that week’s headlines.

For now, though, HBO is sticking to its 10-show commitment. The series wraps its debut season Nov. 16.

A network representative said no decision on renewal has been made yet, adding that HBO’s malleable schedule leaves it in no rush for a quick decision.

The final verdict could fall on the shoulders of Mr. Clooney and Mr. Soderbergh, who could simply decide they have enough on their plate and take a pass on season two.

NBC blinks

NBC bumped its originally scheduled new episodes of “The West Wing” and “Law & Order” on Wednesday and slotted repeats into the night’s schedule, fearing stiff competition from the baseball playoffs.

Fox broadcast the seventh games of the National and American League Championship Series on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. Baseball viewership has been soft in recent years, but the marquee matchups and tightly contested games this season have been ratings smashes.

The Peacock network’s strategy? Rather than air fresh episodes of some of its most powerful shows, it opted for repeats.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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