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Reality invades PBS's 'Frontier'

Thursday, January 10, 2002

By Rob Owen Post-Gazette TV Editor

PBS had a hit with "The 1900 House," which put a middle-class British family in the clothes and home of a turn-of-the-century family. Now PBS is going a little further back in time, sending three families to late 1800s Montana for "The Frontier House" (premieres April 29).

Much was made following Sept. 11 about whether participants in CBS's "reality" show "Big Brother 2" would be told about the terrorist attacks (they were), but it turns out "Frontier House" was also in production at that time. Series producer Simon Shaw said he never struggled with what to do, immediately telling the participating families.

"To me it was instantly important that we let them know what was going on," he said. "It was clearly an event that was going to change all of our lives."

Shaw let the cast see newspaper accounts of the attacks and they listened to some radio coverage, too.

"I really feel that for my family, that we were the lucky ones being where we were, because he told us the information and the following day we read it in the newspaper, and that was it," said Karen Glenn, matriarch of one of the families in "Frontier House." "We didn't have to deal with the onslaught of the visuals and the horror that you had to deal with and live with and explain to your children. In that respect, Montana was a blessing because we were isolated. That's one time when it was a good thing."

Shaw said the family's reactions to the Sept. 11 news will be featured in a companion book and on the show's Web site (www.pbs.org/wnet/frontierhouse), but probably won't be seen in the TV program itself.

Flight 93 may come to TV

CBS may be the first out of the gate with a TV movie related to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Producer Lawrence Schiller ("The Executioner's Song") is developing a movie about hijacked United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Somerset County.

Schiller told The Hollywood Reporter the film will be told from the perspective of the people on the ground who followed the course of the flight and "rose to the occasion trying to find out what was happening in the air and deal with it."

CBS vice president of communications Nancy Carr said "The Real Story of Flight 93" has yet to be given a green light for production. It's in development with no script written, no cast set. It wouldn't air for at least a year.

"The only thing we have to say at this point is Larry Schiller has a proven track record in handling real-life stories in thoughtful, compelling and non-exploitative ways," Carr said.

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