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'Band' to Give HBO Another Power Boost

July 27, 1993|RICK DU BROW

TV or not TV . . .

MOMENTUM: HBO's powerhouse image after last week's Emmy nominations figures to increase with its upcoming broadcast of the anxiously awaited "And the Band Played On."

The docudrama version of Randy Shilts' landmark book about the start of the AIDS crisis features an all-star cast that includes Richard Gere, Matthew Modine and Lily Tomlin and further establishes HBO's moves as a prime outlet for event-style entertainment programming.

The pay channel staked that claim with authority when it piled up 55 Emmy nominations for programs that included major-event specials such as "Citizen Cohn," "Stalin" and "Barbarians at the Gate."

HBO also plans to dramatize Shilts' latest book, "Conduct Unbecoming," about gays and lesbians in the military.

A spokesman for the channel, which previously produced a drama about CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow, says a project about the CBS network's longtime chairman, William S. Paley, is still in the works. One of the former shows that helped HBO break through on the Emmy scene was another biography, about entertainer Josephine Baker.

"And the Band Played On" wound up at HBO after--typically--it fell through as a planned network project.

Once upon a time--and not too long ago--the major, traditional networks could be counted on for distinctive, often stylish treatment of important contemporary subjects, the kinds of stories that motion pictures were not addressing.

ABC helped television break through on the subject of homosexuality with "That Certain Summer." CBS presented Vanessa Redgrave in an inspiring drama set in a Nazi concentration camp, "Playing for Time." ABC dealt with incest in "Something About Amelia" and the Vietnam War in "Friendly Fire." NBC offered an important drama about AIDS, "An Early Frost."

The examples are endless. Henry Fonda played a convict in a significant CBS drama about the criminal justice system, "Gideon's Trumpet." NBC presented "Tail Gunner Joe," about the witch-hunting Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Katharine Hepburn and Laurence Olivier starred in ABC's "Love Among the Ruins." Redgrave made another important appearance in ABC's "My Body, My Child," about a woman's decision about whether to have an abortion.

There were countless other memorable network dramas--from Geraldine Page in Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory" to Lee J. Cobb and Dustin Hoffman in different productions of "Death of a Salesman," to the many triumphs of TV's Golden Age and the miniseries ranging from "Roots" to "The Winds of War." Just a cursory rundown gives a pretty good idea of what's missing from networks nowadays.

Occasional newer entries such as "Lonesome Dove," with Robert Duvall, and "O Pioneers!," with Jessica Lange, are fine, but simply not enough to counter the flood of tabloid-style movies that have severely altered the image of network storytelling.

There were plenty of lousy network movies and plays in the past too, but the odds for discriminating viewers were a lot better.

EMMY TIDBITS: Six of the eight Emmy nominations for "Cheers" were awarded for its final episode, including one for Shelley Long as guest actress in her return to the series. . . . Michael Jackson's prime-time interview with Oprah Winfrey, which, like "Cheers," attracted a huge audience, earned only three nominations. . . .

"Bob Hope: The First 90 Years," a surprisingly outstanding special among TV's endless mediocre tributes, deservedly picked up four nominations. Hope is marking 55 years with NBC. . . .

Oh, sure, "Northern Exposure" led all entries with 16 nominations, but here's a toast to two regulars who didn't make it: Darren E. Burrows as Ed Chigliak, the American Indian film buff, and John Corbett, the philosophical deejay Chris Stevens. . . .

That CBS dud, "Dudley," actually got two nominations--as many as "The Simpsons." Unbelievable. . . .

CBS' two hot new sitcom entries last fall, "Love & War" and "Hearts Afire," left Emmy voters cold. "Love & War" got two nominations and "Hearts Afire" was blanked. . . .

Larry Fishburne, who plays Ike Turner in the film "What's Love Got to Do With It," rightly was nominated for a guest shot as the brother of a murdered cop in the Fox anthology "Tribeca." They ought to build a series around his character.

NEWS BREAK: A colleague reports that during the Midwest floods, "Entertainment Tonight" dealt with "how this was affecting Roseanne and Tom Arnold's diner in Iowa."

WIN SOME, LOSE SOME: The new CBS anchor team of Dan Rather and Connie Chung has dropped into the ratings cellar for two consecutive weeks, while ABC's "World News Tonight With Peter Jennings" now has been No. 1 for 46 consecutive weeks and 195 of the last 198.

LINEAGE: Sharon Stone hosts a TNT special on Jean Harlow on Aug. 15. Title: "Harlow: The Blonde Bombshell." I didn't think they used terms like that anymore.

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