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TV Review : 'Fires of Autumn' a Melodramatic Misfire

October 28, 1994|MARTIN ZIMMERMAN

It is difficult, if not impossible, for the media to ignore the anniversary of major events. It is particularly difficult for television, our voracious daily visual medium, to skip an anniversary--especially when it is one associated with dramatic footage and awesome natural disasters.

And so it is that KCAL-TV Channel 9 delivers "The Fires of Autumn," a year-later look at the hellish firestorms that engulfed five Southern California counties last October, burned more than 1,200 homes and businesses and left three dead and some 200 injured.

Unfortunately, in the hands of a team of KCAL news reporters under the direction of producer Lisa Brown, this is one anniversary that would have been better off merely noted in passing on the 10 o'clock news.

Brown, host David Jackson, a "Prime 9 News" anchor, and reporters Matt Stevens, Michele Gile, Toni Guinyard, Bill Gephardt, Gay Yee and Sylvia Lopez have mined just about every word, phrase or theatrical pause in the Book of Melodrama in this grating, annoying effort to cash in on an admittedly good stash of footage. All this is under the guise of providing an uplifting look at stories of "courage, tragedy and rebuilding." A heavy-handed message of hope is used to justify rerunning all those neat shots of folks in distress.

Important issues are raised--safety, construction, insurance--but only touched upon, lest they get in the way of phrases such as "the future gagged while the present burned" and "victims forced to suffer and heal at once."

Suffering viewers will find it hard not to gag in the present. Healing at once is easy--just click the remote.

* "The Fires of Autumn" airs at 9 tonight on KCAL-TV Channel 9 (and repeats Nov. 6 at 9 p.m.).

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