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TV REVIEWS

'Murder Live!' Takes On Tabloid Television Vices

March 08, 1997|HOWARD ROSENBERG

NBC's "Murder Live!" is a movie whose heart is in the right place--targeting exploitative TV talk shows and their hosts who callously traffic in human carnage en route to ratings, all the while pretending to care deeply about their subjects.

In this case, unfortunately, the accuser is as heavy-handed as the accused is offensive.

Seeking to avenge the suicide of his daughter, revolver-wielding Frank McGrath (David Morse) holds talk-show host Pia Postman (Marg Helgenberger) and her studio audience hostage, vowing to execute the TV star live on camera as throngs of media and onlookers form outside and the cops, headed by Lt. Clay Maloney (Peter Horton), search for a bomb the ranting gunman says he's planted in the building.

Meanwhile, as all of this unfolds on TV before the nation, the local station carrying Postman's show does the expected by titling the incident "Hostage Crisis" and running continuous printed "crawls" of factoids and updates during a long-awaited baseball playoff game.

The root of this crisis was a previous Postman talk show on which McGrath's daughter was a guest. She took her life after being devastated by one of the surprise exposes that are the specialties of daytime talk shows; an actual murder that followed a taping of a "Jenny Jones" episode appears to have inspired this teleplay by Chris Bertolet.

It's but a small flaw that McGrath plans to dispatch Postman on live TV when, in fact, such talk shows are always on videotape. More critically, after incisively making its point about the hypocrisy and shoddiness of this brand of TV, "Murder Live!" pontificates insufferably, belaboring its message to the extent that by the time it plods to its predictable conclusion, you're pulling for Postman to shoot McGrath, instead of vice versa.

* "Murder Live!" will air Sunday at 9 p.m. on NBC (Channels 4, 36).

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