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On the Tube: AMC joins tell-all trend with its own 'Backstory'

Friday, August 11, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

The "Biography" craze continues to spread through the TV universe.


"Backstory" premieres tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. on AMC.


A&E spun off its signature series into The Biography Channel (not available yet on local cable systems). Sci-Fi Channel airs monthly editions of "Sciography," behind-the-scenes looks at science-fiction TV shows. And starting tomorrow, AMC premieres "Backstory," a 14-part series about the making of classic films.

"Bonnie & Clyde" is first up, with star Faye Dunaway among those interviewed about the making of the movie. "Backstory" airs tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. with the 1967 film following at 6 p.m.

At an AMC press conference last month in Pasadena, Calif., Dunaway said everything came together to make "Bonnie & Clyde" a classic, even though it was embraced more in Europe than America when it was first released.

"It stood up as a work of art," she said. "I think 'Casablanca' does that and all the classic movies. They hit you in a way that is very human and that relates to your experience in a tragic or funny way, in such a true way that they're indelible."

Upcoming editions of "Backstory" look at "The Seven Year Itch" (Aug. 26), "The Longest Day" (Sept. 2), "All About Eve" (Sept. 9) and "The Poseidon Adventure" (Sept. 16).

Ronald Neame directed Shelley Winters in "Poseidon Adventure," and they discussed the one and only time she stormed off a film set, which was during the making of that movie.

"I remember my death scene, and I don't quite remember why, but I was furious at Gene Hackman," Winters said.

Neame remembers the details. He said Winters agreed to do the film because her character was a swimmer, and in the scene in dispute, Winters was to dive into the water and swim toward the engine room. She was to get caught underneath and Gene Hackman was to swim to her rescue.

But Hackman objected, saying his character was the leader, and he'd never let Winters dive in. Hackman thought it made more sense if he dove in and Winters rescued him.

"It made complete sense," Neame said. "Also, incidentally, I think it gave Shelley the scene. But, at that particular moment, Shelley was convinced that we were destroying her part."

Winters did remember another part of filming that scene.

"Gene Hackman claimed I was trying to drown him," Winters said. "I had to pick up the wooden plank so he could get away and swim away. But I have very good breath, or I did then, so I took a long time freeing him."

However, Neame doesn't consider "Poseidon Adventure" a classic.

"I am absolutely delighted that it was such a success. It is my favorite film," Neame said. "And, do you know why it's my favorite film? Because it gave me 'F-you' money. I have a feeling you know what I mean."

Film historian Leonard Maltin said "Backstory" might generate more interest in classic films.

"As an old movie lover, the one thing that gets people in the tent, that gets people who aren't necessarily already sold on these films to become interested, is putting them in a context," Maltin said. "Anything that spreads the gospel of classic movies is fine with me."

But do programs like "Backstory" give away too much? By revealing what went into making a movie, does it take away some of the magic? Dunaway thinks so.

"I'd rather keep some of the mystery, because a lot of it seems to be going," she said.

Robert Wagner, who starred in "The Longest Day," agreed.

"To know about what is going on between the people and the relationships between the directors and the actors, I think that's interesting," he said. "But to expose how we do it, the effects, or take them through post-production ... I think it's better to keep that a little bit of a secret."

"This Week in History"
(Tonight at 9, History Channel)

History Channel is generally thought of as a network that appeals to, well, the people who lived through the historic periods depicted.

The network is trying to shake that image with "This Week in History," a series designed to remake history into breaking news. To adapt a line from a past NBC promotional campaign, if you don't know who wrote the "Star Spangled Banner," then it's news to you.

Josh Binswanger and Giselle Fernandez host "This Week in History," which was inspired by "Today in History," a popular destination on the network's Web site.

"One of the things that's most interesting to me about this show is the humanization of the characters in history," Fernandez said. "These were ordinary men who did extraordinary things. If we looked at these figures of history in a more humanized way, I think we would relate to them more and realize what potential we have in our own lives."

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.

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