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On the Tube: George Clooney ready to go live with 'Fail Safe' remake

Friday, April 07, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, Calif. -- George Clooney knows what it's like to do live TV.

He was still on "ER" when that show broadcast a live episode in 1997. Now he's eager to try live TV again with a remake of the classic film "Fail Safe."

Originally a novel, the 1964 film "Fail-Safe" starred Henry Fonda and Walter Matthau. In the 2000 "Fail Safe," Clooney stars as Col. Jack Grady, whose American bomber is accidentally ordered to drop a nuclear warhead on Moscow. Staffers in an American War Room attempt to contact the plane, but the signals jam. Noah Wyle, Richard Dreyfuss, Harvey Keitel, Don Cheadle, Hank Azaria, Brian Dennehy and Sam Elliott also star in this period drama.

In January, Clooney said if "Fail Safe" was successful, he hoped to revive the art of live television. Since then CBS has announced plans for a live telecast of "On Golden Pond" with Julie Andrews next season.

For Clooney, who also serves as "Fail Safe's" executive producer, making a big mistake as an actor is his biggest fear. But he's content to let the little things go.

"It's the fun of live television," Clooney said, comparing it to why people watch the Indy 500. "The reason you watch is because you're sort of anticipating something going wrong and seeing whether people find a way to survive those situations."

Clooney said the biggest problem with the live "ER" was using the show's regular set, which wasn't designed with a live telecast in mind. The color video made the live "ER" look like a TV news show, Clooney said, so "Fail Safe" will be broadcast in black and white to give it a more cinematic feel.

Also, there's no gimmick -- shoehorning a live production into a regular series that's normally shot on film.

"We're not going to have the vehicle of a documentary crew there in case we screw up, that we would go, 'Oh, we just screwed up because a camera crew was here.' We don't have an out," Clooney said. "We're flying a little bit more without a net, but we're also prepared differently."

Walter Bernstein, who wrote the original film, returned to write the script for the new "Fail Safe." Though the story will still be set during the Cold War, Bernstein found the plot applicable to today's world.

"What was most gratifying for me was to feel how pertinent it still was," Bernstein said. "In fact, even more so. When we did it in '63 there were just two countries that had the bomb. Now you've got, what, a dozen that have it. So the question that the movie concerned itself with is, I think, even more apt today."

Nuclear disarmament advocates will use "Fail Safe" to bring attention to their cause. Locally, Pennsylvania Peace Links will hold a round-table discussion Monday at 7:30 p.m. at the Community of Reconciliation, North Bellefield Avenue, Oakland. For details, call 412-471-0302.

"Fail Safe" airs live Sunday at 9 p.m. on CBS.

"The American President" (9 p.m. Sunday on PBS)

No, PBS isn't getting even more commercial by airing the 1995 Michael Douglas-Annette Bening film.

This "American President" is a 10-hour documentary series that airs at 9 p.m. on WQED in two-hour blocks Sunday through Thursday.

Series executive producer Philip Kuhnhardt said for some time the producers searched for a unifying principle.

"What we found is that the story of the presidency is, at least in part, a story of human personality under pressure again and again," Kuhnhardt said. "A president's personal gifts as well as flaws have ended up profoundly shaping his executive performance.

"Jefferson's expansiveness, Madison's caution, Jackson's ferociousness, Buchanan's timidity, FDR's self-confidence all deeply affected the evolution of the high office," he said. "And so questions of character are not only relevant, they are essential. And I am speaking of character in the broadest sense of the term."

Hugh Sidey, Time magazine's White House correspondent for four decades, narrates "The American President." The program features political, military and media figures giving voice to America's president who lived before sound recordings were made. Voices heard will include Gen. Colin Powell, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Sen. Robert Dole, Walter Cronkite, radio host Don Imus and former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee.

At a January press conference, former President Gerald Ford said partisanship and the us-vs.-them mentality that's developed between the current Democratic administration and the Republican Congress has hurt everyone.

"Those stalemates, in my judgment, were counterproductive, politically and otherwise," Ford said. "The net result, in my judgment, the American people at some point will be fed up with that kind of performance."

He said from 1947 to 1960 there was a maximum of cooperation and unanimity that allowed things to get done.

"I was a very small player back in those days, but I look back and I think the country was the beneficiary," Ford said. "I hope that politicians, the White House and Congress in the future will have that kind of an attitude."

Likewise, he thought the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal decreased public appreciation and respect for the office of the presidency. But he said a woman will ultimately occupy one of the top two spots in the nation.

"Maybe this year, maybe four years from now, either the Demo-crats or the Republicans will nominate a male president and a female vice president. They will win. They are sworn in. Then the male will die in office and the female vice president will take over," Ford said. "I only say to my male friends, once that happens, we're through."

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com.

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