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Tuned In: Quecreek miners, ABC choose movie producer

Thursday, August 08, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

ABC will announce today that television producer Larry Sanitsky has been picked to turn the story of the rescued Quecreek miners into a movie that's likely to be filmed in Somerset. His wardrobe may have sealed the deal.


Extras needed for 'West Wing' episode filming near Volant


Sanitsky was one of six producers who met with the miners and some of their families Monday in a conference room at the Green Tree Holiday Inn after they met President Bush. After he got the nod, Sanitsky phoned all the miners and one said, "We went with you because you were wearing a T-shirt." One of the wives also remembered his simple jeans and gray Gap T-shirt.

"Ultimately, it may be as simple as that," Sanitsky said.

Quinn Taylor, senior vice president of movies/miniseries for ABC, said the miners connected with Sanitsky, executive producer of "The Last Don" and "Tommyknockers" miniseries and movies like "Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All" and "Paris Trout."

"I think he showed them he was a guy who happens to be a producer; they're guys who happen to mine coal for a living, it was that kind of connection," Taylor said.

The miners also liked a producer named George Paige who will create a companion piece to the ABC movie. Taylor said he's worked with Paige before on a Gilda Radner documentary that aired before ABC's Radner biopic in May. The content of this companion program is still under discussion.

Sanitsky said he told the miners about his stint as a CBS executive the year the network debuted "Touched by an Angel," which he felt had resonance with the miners' story. "This one was a real miracle, the others were 'Touched by an Angel' stories, but I said a lot of those values are sort of there."

One of the miners asked if Sanitsky had ever been in a mine, and he had. He produced "Act of Vengeance" in 1986 for HBO, a fact-based movie about corruption in the United Mine Workers' 1969 presidential elections that starred Charles Bronson and Wilford Brimley and was set in West Virginia.

Sanitsky said his goal is to shoot the film, which doesn't have a title or air date, in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

"We intend to come into the area and do it," he said. "I spent some time in Somerset and I think that town is really the spirit of the story."

Taylor agreed.

"Coal mining is a very specific way of life, it has a very specific look and feel to it that I don't think you could replicate somewhere else," Taylor said. "It allows the town to have something given back and allows the miners and their families total access to the process."

Taylor said the film won't be a difficult physical production because there are only three primary locations: in the mine, the rescue operation above the mine and at the fire hall where the families wait.

The production's biggest hurdle will be finding a place to shoot the scenes of the mine flooding. "We have to find a facility where we can get the water in and get all that water out," Sanitsky said.

Obtaining the rights to the miners' story was a priority for Disney, a company that's seen its profits erode over the past year. When asked if interest in the project reached as high as Disney honcho Michael Eisner, Taylor said, "It couldn't have gotten any higher. Everybody -- from the assistants to the top -- wanted this."

Sanitsky hopes to have a screenwriter signed onto the project by the end of the week so that the writer can be in Somerset talking with the miners next week. A casting director will also come on board by then with a director soon to follow.

"Given that we need the weather in our favor, the goal is to film it in early fall, late September through October, and try to take advantage of the better weather at the beginning," Sanitsky said.

ABC's eagerness to get the film on the air quickly concerns the producer, but not too much.

"This is a movie, unlike others, where a lot of the big mechanics are known," Sanitsky said. "We know a mine gets flooded, we know what we have to do in terms of casting. We can do a lot of things that normally you'd have to wait for a script to do."

Taylor promised corners won't be cut to get the movie on the air.

"We won't compromise artistic, creative merit," he said. "Obviously the holiday season is ideal. It's a story about families rejoicing and rebirth on some level as these guys basically came back from the dead and their families came back from utter loss. What better way to be thankful and celebrate the season of giving than with this story?"

Channel 16's future

The word has gone forth that Pittsburgh will soon have a new commercial station, and Diane Sutter is hearing from many interested parties.

"I'm on speed dial now for all the syndicators," she said last week.

Last month Sutter's Shooting Star Broadcasting got the go-ahead from the Federal Communications Commission to purchase WQEX from WQED for $20 million.

Sutter is not ready to release detailed plans for the new station -- its programming, its call letters, where its offices will be -- but she did say she expects a full-time staff of 25 to 30 people plus additional part-timers and free-lancers.

Sutter has had discussions with executives at several local stations, including WTAE, about producing news for her station, possibly a 10 p.m. newscast.

"I'd like to have the station on the air by the end of the year or the beginning of next year," she said. "But the one thing I learned in this process is that one can have a very good and detailed plan, but you can only do what you have control over."

There are still some bureaucratic hurdles facing Sutter, but an appeal by those opposed to the deal isn't one of them.

Jerry Starr, whose Citizens for Independent Public Broadcasting mounted a campaign to stop the deal, said his group won't appeal.

Starr said that though CIPB disagrees with the decision, the conservative political leanings of the commissioners and members of the appeals court is insurmountable. But the group was reassured by the language in the FCC's ruling.

"It was constructed so narrowly to preclude greater damage," Starr said. "One of our major concerns was this would set a precedent for stations around the country with claimed financial exigency to petition to commercialize their licenses as well, but the majority decision made it clear they consider this case to be unique and affirmed that the de-reservation policy was still held in high regard."

Train wreck TV

The premiere of "The Anna Nicole Show" Sunday night on E! nabbed the cable network its highest ratings ever, but that shouldn't be a source of pride.

Aside from the cute, "Nanny"-like opening credits, Anna Nicole Smith's series about her everyday life is an embarrassment of the highest order.

In interview segments, Smith was relatively coherent, but while looking for a new house she seemed totally blitzed, slurring her words and disrespecting the occupants of the homes she visited.

Unlike "The Osbournes," which relied on the family's antics mostly in their home, "The Anna Nicole Show" creates contrived situations to put its star in, like the house hunting plot.

Most despicable is that she drags her 16-year-old son, against his will, into the series. He's in for a world of hurt when kids at school see his mom on TV talking about her need for sex.

You can reach Rob Owen at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com.

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