Friday, November 28, 2008

A killer week.

As some of you will know, it's Miniseries Week on Lifetime ("Television for women...and Steve"), anchored by the network's 25th-anniversary prime-time rebroadcast of The Thorn Birds. And I have to say, though Birds held me completely in its thrall when it debuted in 1983, it has not held up well through the passing years, at least for this viewer. (Nor does it seem to be causing much of a spike in book sales for author Colleen McCullough.) I barely made it to the middle of the second installment this time around; once I'd heard that timeless "Who sent the fire?" line, I was done.

But Lifetime also has been showing a number of my favorite true-crime miniseries this week. Most of them date from the 1990s, when such stories of "forbidden love" or "love gone tragically wrong"
all seemingly starring Cheryl Ladd*, Joanna Kerns, Ken Olin, the late Robert Urich, or some combination thereofwere the hot commodity in prime-time television. The titles from movies of that vintage pretty much say it all: Dead by Sunset, Dead by Dawn, Deadly Seduction, Seduced by Madness, Love, Lies and Murder, Contract for Murder, A Passion for Murder, Murder in a Small Town, Murder on Shadow Mountain, Fatal Beauty, Fatal Vision, Fatal Desire, Fatal Trust, Fatal Memories, Fatal Charm...and on and on we go. Sometimes, to change things up, the producers went for irony: e.g. Mother Knows Best and Blind Faith (both starring the genre-ubiquitous Ms. Kerns) or The Good Son ("In a quiet town...In a comfortable home...In a perfect body...Evil can be as close as someone you love...") I once joked in an essay that the archetypal title for a true-crime movie would be something like Adulterous Fatality of Blinding Rage: The Terrifyingly True Saga of a Murderous Killing.

And yes, there was also that little thing called Bed of Lies. Regulars may recall that in 1992, The Wolper Companywhich previously had given the world not only The Thorn Birds but also the classic miniseries of all time, Rootsdecided for reasons known only to itself to jeopardize that stellar image by releasing a film called Bed of Lies. It was based on a book I'd written, Deadly Blessing, about a Texas politician (Chris Cooper, in the flick) who "married a woman from the other side of the tracks" (Susan Dey) and ended up getting shot by her. Notwithstanding the movie itselfwhich, when I first saw it, struck me as a two-hour excuse for Ms. Dey to cavort about in skimpy clothingthat was an exciting time of life for me, a literal rags-to-riches transformation that had me fully expecting to be moving in next to the Spielbergs at any moment. Let's just say I was off by a few hundred million dollars.

Anyway, The Wolper Co., distributor Warner Bros. and screenwriter John Ireland tweaked a few facts in order to give my movie a little bit more pizazz. This is typically the case, of course, even with so-called "true stories." So I figured I'd end today with a bit of tongue-in-cheekery:
by providing the real-world translations for those breathless teasers used in promoting made-for-TV crime flicks and other docudramas. They're listed in descending order of fidelity to the facts.

"Ripped from today’s headlines"
Translation: We made it from public record. It's largely true, but don't expect to see anything you haven't already seen two dozen times on Nancy Grace's show.

"A true story"
Translation: Because we had to give script approval to the protagonist in order to secure his or her rights, the story reflects that person's self-serving POV and is shamelessly biased in that person's favor.

"Based on a true story"
Translation:
We were too cheap to buy the rights of the principal character, so we changed all the names and made a thinly veiled version of the basic story line.

"Dramatized for television"
Translation: The real, unembellished story was so damn boring that no one would've watched. Even we wouldn't have watched it, and and we made it.

"Inspired by actual events"

Translation:
Somebody the same approximate height as our lead character did once, indeed, exist. The rest of it, we made up.

* who, curiously, is seldom mentioned in discussions of Hollywood's most beautiful women. She surely deserves to be mentioned, in this man's view.

16 comments:

Elizabeth said...

(Cheryl Ladd) is seldom mentioned in discussions of Hollywood's most beautiful women. She surely deserves to be mentioned, in this man's view.

And in this woman's view as well. Oh, I so agree. :) And she ages beautifully, too (no small feat, IMHO).

Steve, you've spiked my hunger for a good whodunit this weekend -- which makes me think I should go out today after all (yikes) and rent "Bed of Lies."

As you know, my chromosomal defect makes me a dramatized crime TV junkie. Nothing in the genre is too boring for my tastes. I can watch reruns of "Law and Order" numerous times, to my family's chagrin.

L&O, as you have noticed, I'm sure, has a different tack on their story-telling. They rip their plots from the headlines, but serve a disclaimer in the beginning saying that their tale is totally fictional and any similarity to reality is a pure coinkidink. Yeah, right.

The Good Son ("In a quiet town...In a comfortable home...In a perfect body...Evil can be as close as someone you love...")

LOL. This is funny. In our house, we have an on-going joke, doing a pretend intro to my crime dramas, that goes something like this:

(In a deep, ominous voice) Just when you thought... (fill in the blanks, e.g., this was a happy Thanksgiving in a normal family, one man's secrets have unleashed evil of apocalyptic proportions...

BTW, we use the "just when you thought" line ad lib in assorted domestic situations as well. E.g., Just when you thought you'd have a regular, edible dinner, your mother decides to serve pierogi...
(cue evil-sounding music).

Steve Salerno said...

Actually, Eliz--not to be contentious--but Ms. Ladd has had some recent plastics work that, in my judgment, left her with that almost stereotypical artificial look, and in any case is far less becoming that what she probably would've ended up with, had she let nature take its course. She's not nearly as bad as Priscilla Presley--thank God for small favors--but oh how I wish she'd left good enough alone.

Elizabeth said...

LOL. You know, Steve, I was just thinking along those lines, after I sent my post: it's not that difficult to age beautifully when you are a Hollywood star. If you do not overdo it, that is.

But no, I did not know about Ladd's improvements. It is a shame, I agree. There is a whole line of disfigured formerly beautiful women who have gone under the knife and syringe and emerged looking alien and weird. Nicole Kidman is the latest one, from what I noticed during her recent TV appearances to promote "Australia" (as if she needed surgical intervention...)

Steve Salerno said...

Eliz: Exactamundo. In fact, when I hear that Charlize Theron has gone in for "beautification," then we will know that the end is truly at hand....

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve, Perhaps Cheryl's being overlooked was the result of having replaced Farrah "Nips" Fawcett, who was the #1 object of adolescent masturbatory fantasy of her time. I'm personally convinced that Ladd (and Farrah) suffered in comparison by appearing onscreen alongside Jaclyn Smith, whom, in my astute opinion, happens to be one of the most beautiful women ever to grace any screen, big or small. And Jaclyn just keeps getting more beautiful, while Farrah... well, I'd rather just remember how she looked on "The Poster," even before her bout with cancer.

Steve Salerno said...

Yanno, it's funny, Rev, I once had a major Jaclyn Smith thing too--but her siren's call faded over time, whereas Cheryl's only grew. Also in time, I came to see the rather quieter prettiness of Kate Jackson, who--in that much-ballyhooed on-stage reunion (at the Emmy's?) a couple years back--clearly outshone the other two, IMO.

In truth, I never saw the appeal of FF-S, perpetually perky nips notwithstanding. Although, I did feel for her in a human-to-human way b/c she had to put up with the insufferable Ryan O'Neal. If she looks drawn and defeated these days, I don't think it's from the cancer so much as from her years with our boy Ryan.

roger o'keefe said...

Ron, total agreement on this one! Jaclyn Smith it is, hands down! What a face.

RevRon's Rants said...

Roger and I agree on something! Must be a sign of the end times! :-)

Steve Salerno said...

I guess some things transcend ideology. Clearly Jaclyn Smith is one of them.

RevRon's Rants said...

I always had a thing for Kate Jackson, too. I thought Jaclyn Smith to be impossibly, heart-breakingly beautiful, unapproachable to a mere mortal like myself. Kate, on the other hand, seemed like someone you might actually know and have a crush on.

roger o'keefe said...

I like Kate Jackson too, by the way. Farrah was someone you would just "do", while Kate was someone you'd want to date.

Steve Salerno said...

OK now this is getting downright spooky, guys...

Elizabeth said...

Aww... Nothing seems to help (male) bonding like reminiscences of "Charlie's Angels." Sweet.:)

Hey, yes, I'm poking fun, but ever so gently -- for I too had a thing for Jaclyn Smith. (Oh, c'mon, who didn't? :)

But while Jaclyn was (and has remained) beautiful, she was somewhat boring, in that one-dimensional "Ok, there is beauty, but not much else there" way. No mystique or capacity to intrigue, which Cheryl has possessed.

Alright, now let's open an official fan club...

roger o'keefe said...

May I say, gentlemen, we are doing a disservice to our resident womenfolk. Elizabeth and Connie clearly can hold their own in any discussion of beauty, whereas Alyssa who disappeared a while back actually reminded me somewhat of Jaclyn Smith. Maybe it's something about the topic, Steve, but you seem to bring out the lovelies!

Steve Salerno said...

So am I running a dating service now or what? Someone please tell me, because I'd like to charge for it, and the money would come in handy at this time of year...

Elizabeth said...

Oh, Roger, you sly young so-and-so...I know what you're doing: with all that chivalry and compliments thrown left and right (but especially left), we will no longer be able to argue about free market, feminism, and religion. Fine, have it your way, spoil the fun for all of us.

---

So am I running a dating service now or what? Someone please tell me, because I'd like to charge for it, and the money would come in handy at this time of year..

You're finally catching on, Steve. (Better late than never.) Sure, a blog is nice -- entertaining and therapeutic 'n all, but dating is where the real money is. So, chop chop, let's not waste any more time!

(LMAO)