NEW YORK — "The Trial of Bernhard Goetz," a three-hour "courtroom drama" based on transcripts from the recent trial of the so-called "subway vigilante," has been set for public television's "American Playhouse" series.
The project has been in the planning stages since before Goetz went on trial here last April 27, charged with shooting three black youths on a Manhattan subway train in December, 1984. The plans were kept secret so that others, including the television networks, would not move in on the idea to base a drama on material that was readily available to the public.
"For a while, we were wildly nervous that somebody else might do it, since the transcripts were available to anyone," said "American Playhouse" executive producer Lindsay Law in confirming plans for the project here Wednesday. He said the project was being brought into the open now because production on the $1 million drama is due to begin in Boston early next month, with plans for a February broadcast on public television.
"It's not that we're suddenly planning to do a series of (courtroom) trials," said Law, pointing out that the drama series in the past has drawn from real-life events and people, but never before entirely from actual public records. "But this trial was spectacular because of the issues it raised about the nature of violence and racism in this country, and it provides an opportunity to dramatize our American system of justice."
The Goetz trial received national attention and cast Goetz, portraying himself as an outraged citizen who acted to protect himself against what he believed to be an impending mugging, in roles that ranged from folk hero to vigilante, depending on the observer.
The trial ended June 16, with Goetz acquitted of all the charges (including attempted murder) except illegal possession of a handgun. He is due to be sentenced here later this month.
"I think this is one of those times when I had a good idea before anybody else," said Harry Moses, a former CBS News and "60 Minutes" producer. He attended Goetz' seven-week trial and culled the 180-page script for the upcoming drama from the 4,500-page trial transcript (obtained at a cost to the production of $3 per page). Moses plans to direct the drama, as well as to produce it in collaboration with veteran Broadway producer James B. Freydberg.
Moses, who said he simply "woke up one morning" with the idea to dramatize the trial, said he took the project to Law, rather than to CBS or another network, because "(the people at) public television are intelligent, trusting, gentlemanly . . . and they leave you alone. I also needed a quick 'yes' and the money to purchase the transcripts, and the networks do take time."
Moses has cast a young New York-based actor, Peter Crombie, as Goetz. Goetz did not testify but was present in the courtroom throughout the trial. Moses said a key element in the drama would be a re-enacted portion of a two-hour taped confession by Goetz that was played in its entirety during the trial.