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Skategate: And Now the Movies : Television: Networks rush to capitalize on Nancy and Tonya. And there may even be a feature film down the road.

March 03, 1994|GREG BRAXTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the grand tradition of quickie TV movie subjects such as "Lethal Lolita" Amy Fisher, cult leader David Koresh and alleged parent slayers Lyle and Erik Menendez, the Icewomen cometh.

ABC, NBC and Fox are moving at triple-lutz speed in their plans for movies based on Olympic ice-skating silver medalist Nancy Kerrigan and rival Tonya Harding. Another producer is hoping to put together a feature film with Harding's cooperation.

At least two of the television movies--those at Fox and ABC--are being rushed into production for broadcast during the May ratings sweeps, sources said.

"It usually takes me more time to see a movie than I'll have to make this one," quipped Steve Tisch, producer of a Kerrigan-based film being made by Disney for ABC. He added, "ABC feels we should be competitive with the other two movies."

While the ABC project focuses specifically on Kerrigan and will involve her in the production, the Fox and NBC efforts will center on the Kerrigan-Harding rivalry and will be written largely from newspaper reports and public records. The fourth project would tell Harding's story, and is contingent on her agreeing to sell rights to it.

The networks and producers said that public interest in the two ice skaters is far from the cooling-down stage, even though their highly anticipated showdown at the Winter Olympics in Norway ended last Friday. In that competition, which drew some of the largest audiences in TV history, Kerrigan won the silver while Harding finished eighth.

Scripts for the three television films are being written at break-neck speed, even though Harding's fate is uncertain and Kerrigan's post-Olympic behavior has come in for some criticism.

Harding continues to be investigated by law-enforcement officials for her possible involvement in the Jan. 6 assault on Kerrigan. And the U.S. Figure Skating Assn. has scheduled a disciplinary hearing for March 10 in Colorado Springs, Colo., to determine whether Harding can remain a member of the association.

Meanwhile, Kerrigan, who signed an estimated $2-million deal with the Walt Disney Co. for a TV movie, a prime-time special, a book and appearances at Disney theme parks, became the target of some unwanted publicity following comments she made during last weekend's appearance at a Disney World parade.

In video taped by KNBC-TV Channel 4 in Los Angeles, Kerrigan was heard to say, "This is so corny. This is so dumb. This is the most corny thing I've ever done." The footage was aired on CNBC's "Tom Snyder," NBC's "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" and NBC's "Today" show.

Disney officials declined to comment on Kerrigan's remarks.

Tisch said that the Kerrigan movie for ABC "will deal with her as she prepares for the Olympics. I'm not sure where it's going to end, but it will probably end very close to her winning the medal."

He added that the film would not focus too closely on the Kerrigan assault: "It will be dealt with, but that's not the story we're trying to tell. It's a family movie. There'll be nothing scandalous about it."

He said he was interviewing actors and actresses for the movie this week, and was under no pressure from the network to cast a known actress as Kerrigan. Kerrigan will be doing her own skating in the film, and will re-create routines from a number of competitions, Tisch said.

He was also hoping that he would be able to use CBS footage from the Olympics. But CBS officials said they will not allow any of their tape to be shown by anyone other than them.

NBC officials said their film about Harding and Kerrigan is not targeted at this point for the May sweeps. It is being written by Phil Penningroth, the writer of NBC's "Amy Fisher: My Story," using material in the public domain.

Fox officials declined to comment on their film.

Producer Zev Braun said he finds Harding the more fascinating movie subject of the two skaters and is negotiating with her representatives for the rights to make a movie either for TV or theatrical release.

"Nancy is not interesting," he said. "She's an interior person. She's inarticulate and inexpressive. As far as personalities go, Tonya represents the underclass of America. What she has gone through has captured the imagination of many of us. She's been victimized by her mother, her husband, and still she's one of the greatest skaters of our time."

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