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TV REVIEW : 'Turning Point's' 'Birth': A News Book

July 27, 1993|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The ABC news department, unlike its competition, is a churning factory of news product, and the latest model out of the plant is something called "Turning Point," designed to explore in an hour a present-day or historical issue with broad ramifications. It's more like a news book rather than a news magazine (and in this way, direct competition with PBS' own news book, "Frontline"), yet so similar to ABC's "20/20" that the temptation is to call it "60/60."

At least, that's what is suggested by the pilot, "Switched at Birth: Kimberly's Story" (10 tonight, Channels 7 and 10). With its blend of intense melodrama and the presence of Barbara Walters as host, you have to wonder if ABC isn't simply putting old wine into a new bottle. But producers Michele Riordan Read and Dave Rummel take the full measure of Kimberly's dilemma and expand it beyond the private confines of her case.

Like Ofra Bikel's news-making "Innocence Lost: The Verdict" last week on "Frontline," in which Bikel did not hide her judgment that jury misconduct had tainted one of the ongoing child sex abuse trials in Edenton, N.C., Read, Rummel and Walters do not conceal their sympathy for Kimberly, who is going into Sarasota, Fla., court in August to "divorce" her biological parents, Regina and Ernest Twigg. Her attorney happens to be the new father of Gregory K., the boy whose similar successful efforts inspired Kimberly.

According to the evidence presented here, Kimberly and another baby girl, Michelle, were suspiciously switched shortly after birth in early December, 1978, at Hardee Memorial Hospital in Wauchula, Fla. It wasn't until 1988, however, when Michelle, born with a heart condition and given a blood test before open-heart surgery, was found not to be genetically related to the Twiggs. Regina Twigg, raised as an orphan and the mother of seven, decided to find out where her real child was.

She ended up at Bob Mays' doorstep, and convinced him to allow Kimberly to visit her biological family. Kimberly now says that she never felt a part of the Twiggs, although photos and home videos show a happy Kimberly playing with her new-found sisters and brothers. Bob Mays saw her grades drop and her attitude become more combative, and cut off her visitation rights. The Twiggs shot back, demanding full custody. The impressively mature 14-year-old suffered a nervous breakdown, and began divorce proceedings against the Twiggs.

What the cameras show is Regina Twigg as a scorned terrier of a mother, refusing to accept Kimberly's stated wishes, and Kimberly trying to maintain a calm front, but breaking down and sobbing uncontrollably until Walters extends her arm and hugs her. It gives off a bad whiff of journalist-as-therapist, and slants things in Kimberly's favor. It's anyone's guess whether the court will order her to move back to her blood parents, like Baby Jessica, or divorce them, like Gregory K. But you can be sure that the ABC news factory is working up a sequel.

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