In one electronic swoop, Steven Spielberg gabbed Tuesday with reporters across the United States, scotching rumors that he would not actively be promoting "Amazing Stories," his new fantasy anthology series for NBC.
Sitting comfortably in a woodsy, plant-filled office at his Amblin Entertainment office at Universal Studios, Spielberg addressed the news media in 175 cities via satellite. Seventeen of those cities were wired for two-way telephone contact to allow questioning during the 90-minute session.
No reporters were allowed at the Amblin office, where Spielberg was joined only by a cameraman, a soundman and two publicists. The local media gathered at NBC headquarters in Burbank to view the film maker on twin 19-inch TV screens.
Some highlight questions and their responses:
From Detroit: Would "Amazing Stories," on which Spielberg serves as executive producer and sometime writer and director, have the sort of "wow factor" that "Miami Vice" provided NBC last season?
Spielberg: "Wow factor." I've never heard that one before, but I certainly hope there is. (He also hopes it will last.) I would hope the "wow" grows . . . as opposed to being "wow, wow, wow, unnh ."
From Minneapolis: What is the value of the "scare factor," which Spielberg revealed has prompted moving four "intense" episodes to time slots later than Sundays at 8 p.m., when "Amazing Stories" will normally air?
Spielberg: I don't set out to scare young children. When I talk scary, believe me . . . it's not "Halloween" scary. We have no blood, thank goodness, and our violence level is extremely low.
From Los Angeles: Is Spielberg going to buy MCA, an oft-heard rumor?
Spielberg: I'm not that rich.
From Minneapolis: Dr. Ruth, my wife has . . . . uh-oh, wait a minute, wrong call. (Spielberg and many of the reporters snickered at this one, which was followed by the newsman's legitimate question.)
From Ft. Worth, Tex.: What are his expectations for the show's success?
Spielberg: Personally, I'm just looking to stay on the air for a couple of years. On a bad night, we'll get 18, 19 million people watching (which he noted is very good by motion picture standards).
From Baltimore: Might some episodes of "Amazing Stories" be spun off into series of their own?
Spielberg: That's between NBC and our business people (at Amblin). I'm not ready to be Aaron Spelling.
(Spielberg, who has remained very tight-lipped about "Amazing Stories"--as he is with all his projects--became a touch evasive only once, when a reporter in Dallas asked about "The Color Purple," the movie he just finished directing.) I'm not really prepared during this press conference to discuss "The Color Purple."
Before the news conference, an NBC spokesman said that Spielberg had placed no restrictions on the questioning. "There's nothing he is touchy about--his relationship with what's-her-name or any of it," the publicist said he had been told by a Spielberg aide.
No one asked about "what's-her-name"--actress Amy Irving, the mother of Spielberg's son, Max, who will be 3 months old Friday--but he hinted at the topic himself. After a routine TV question from People magazine writer Jane Hall in New York, Spielberg said, "I can't believe that's the only question People magazine wants to ask me."
The press conference began at 8 a.m. with a pre-taped message from NBC Entertainment President Brandon Tartikoff, followed by a live introduction from Sally Van Slyke, the publicist on loan to "Amazing Stories" from Universal, which is co-producer of the series.
As Tartikoff indicated in his pre-taped segment, Spielberg's electronic appearance was made because the film maker was busy directing "The Color Purple" in North Carolina in June, when most of the producers and stars of NBC's other new series were trotted out for the semi-annual visit by TV reporters from around the country.
"Amazing Stories," which premieres Sept. 29, has been the subject of enormous curiosity because of its anthology format and the involvement of Spielberg, who directed "Jaws," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" and produced this summer's "Back to the Future" and "Goonies." Each half-hour episode of the series will play like what Spielberg calls "a little movie," with technical standards more frequently associated with motion pictures. Many of the shows feature film directors, including Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, Paul Bartel and Peter Hyams.
Industry analysts, however, have questioned "Amazing Stories' " potential to become a hit, citing Spielberg's limited promotional activities on behalf of the show as one factor. He is withholding the first several episodes from television critics, and even the plots are a closely guarded secret.
But Spielberg emphatically denied that he was not providing adequate means for the show's promotion. "From the beginning, I've said, 'We've got to show clips, we've got to show clips' to show the eclecticism of the shows," he said.
"He sends us good bits of shows," confirmed John Miller, NBC vice president for advertising and promotion. Spielberg is "not revealing the punch lines," Miller said, but is providing sufficient clips for the network to create 15 different promotional spots for the series, ranging in length from 10 to 60 seconds.
Miller did say, however, that "Amazing Stories" is the only NBC show for which he has not seen full episodes before devising his promotional campaigns.