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NBC Pioneering With Films in a New Nonfiction Frontier : Television: Susan Forward's best-selling book 'Men Who Hate Women' will make it to the small screen as a blend of drama, fact and talk show--a hybrid that is seen as the future.

July 01, 1993|ROBERT EPSTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When psychologist Susan Forward's book "Men Who Hate Women, & the Women Who Love Them" came out seven years ago, it flourished for 40 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and attracted a flock of Hollywood producers with ideas of how to turn it into a movie.

But the nonfiction book, which explored emotional abuse, never made it to the screen, despite the interest of 10 production companies and three years of what Forward calls "development hell" at NBC.

Now NBC and Forward, along with Sherman Oaks-based O'Hara Horowitz Productions, are trying again.

Same book. Same place. Quite a different approach.

If what writer-producer Michael O'Hara is planning works, self-help, pop-psychology books may be network television's next great frontier: the fact-based-movie-special-talk-show-magazine.

Under the banner of "NBC Best Sellers: . . . " (a different title would pop in after the colon with each episode), O'Hara proposes to blend drama with other TV formats.

For the "Men Who Hate Women" pilot, scheduled to be shot this summer for airing in the fall, half of the two-hour program will be a movie based on a case from Forward's book. For the other hour, producer Harry Moses, a 14-year CBS and "60 Minutes" veteran, plans several reality segments: a news feature on misogyny and how it's displayed in popular culture, a "before" and "after" soap opera reshaped on camera by Forward, plus a documentary on three women and their attempts to deal with emotionally abusive relationships.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday July 2, 1993 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 16 Column 2 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Book author-- Joan Torres is co-author with psychologist Susan Forward of the book "Men Who Hate Women, & the Women Who Love Them." Her name was omitted in Thursday's story on the adaptation of the book for television.

If the pilot convinces NBC to continue, O'Hara has lined up such chart-clinging titles as "Women Who Love Too Much," "Excess Baggage" and "Women and Doctors" for similar treatment.

"It's a totally new format," O'Hara says, "where we take female-driven books that historically have not been translatable into movies of the week, dramatize them and then add a bit of 'Donahue,' a bit of '20/20' and '60 Minutes.' It will be part news magazine, part mini-movie."

O'Hara's career in many ways is a reflection of the changing landscape of prime-time programming as it has moved from an emphasis on fiction-based movies of the week to fact-based, news-based movies.

A former investigative reporter for Gannett newspapers, O'Hara came to Hollywood in the mid-1970s thinking he might have the right stuff to be a film writer. Instead, he settled in at NBC as a publicist, preferring the safety net of a full-time job to the perils of pitch meetings and rejection slips.

As a new publicist, he sold a script to the NBC series "Chicago Stories" and began moving up the ladder. When he wasn't marketing other people's projects, he started a second script, "Daddy," fictional but inspired by a personal incident--being left alone with a newborn infant.

The script got a "too soft" evaluation and turn-downs from CBS, ABC and NBC. Rewritten, it was bought by NBC and retitled "Those She Left Behind" when the network was stocking up on movies in anticipation of a strike in 1988. It proved to be a ratings winner.

O'Hara says he is often asked by network officials still looking for a ratings winner to "bring us another 'Those She Left Behind.' "

"If I did, they wouldn't buy it," he says.

What the networks are looking for in movies and specials, he says, isn't fiction anymore. They want headline-based movies.

They also want cost-contained productions.

He feels he's learned to do both. After leaving NBC publicity as a vice president, he linked up with investment banker Lawrence Horowitz and made such headline-based TV movies as "Switched at Birth" with Bonnie Bedelia and ABC's four-hour miniseries last May, "Murder in the Heartland." The company also produced NBC's fact-based "Moment of Truth: Why My Daughter?," which aired in April with Linda Gray starring. Two additional "Moment of Truth" movies have been made for next season and four more have been ordered.

In an era of limited expectations, O'Hara claims his company has done something that has endeared him to the hearts of network executives. He made the two-hour "Moment of Truth" at almost a million dollars under the going rate for two-hour TV movies.

"A movie of the week costs $2.6 million to $3.2 million," he says. "We shot 'Moment' for a million less and we did it without compromising production values. How did we do it? It's like building a house and you know someone can do it for $100 a square foot and someone for $65. Now I can't tell you how we did it for $65 because if I did, I'd be out of business.

"One thing we didn't do was get into a high-priced competition for rights to our stories for 'Moment of Truth.' In some cases, rights have sold for close to $500,000. We find other important news stories, the smaller headlines, ones that play into the economic parameters of what we do. We can't afford to go out and buy the Amy Fisher story. There would go the budget.

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