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THE INSIDE TRACK | THE HOT CORNER

May 28, 1997|MIKE PENNER

A consumer's guide to the best and worst of sports media and merchandise. Ground rules: If it can be read, played, heard, observed, worn, viewed, dialed or downloaded, it's in play here.

What: "Weapons of Mass Distraction"

When: Thursday (8:50 p.m.), June 2 (10:35 p.m.) and June 11 (9 p.m.) on HBO.

Scripted and produced back when a potential purchase of the Dodgers was just a gleam in Rupert Murdoch's eye, this send-up of two unscrupulous media moguls trying to buy a professional football team straddles a frighteningly fine line between fiction and mid-1997 reality.

Dueling media magnates Lionel Powers (played by Gabriel Byrne) and Julian Messenger (Ben Kingsley) vie ruthlessly and recklessly for control of the Tucson Titans because--and on this point, they both agree--"he who controls sports controls it all."

"Only sports lets the couch people forget their dried-up marriages, their dead-end jobs, their dusty dreams that all the six-packs in the world cannot wash away," Messenger notes. "And while they're rooting for the winners that they themselves can never be, you promote your series, your movies, you name it, to bombard what's left of the poor buggers' senses."

For those remaining few still wondering why Murdoch would want to buy the Dodgers to add to his Fox Sports empire . . . any more questions?

Cynicism courses through the veins of this dark satire, trickling down from the greed-mongering CEOs ruining lives and ransacking reputations in pursuit of the Titans to a classroom of aspiring peanut vendors. As the instructor informs the applicants, "You toss the bag, the crowd passes the money--they love it. They're in the show. They can't pitch, they can't run, but for only a buck, every [sucker] and his brother is a part of the action."

Writer-producer Larry Gelbart originally intended "Weapons of Mass Distraction" as an over-the-top farce, but cast against the backdrop of recent events, it often feels like a docu-drama.

Media stars involved in tabloid sex scandals?

A professional sports league permitting two of its teams to be run by the same owner?

The latter is happening in Major League Soccer, where the Colorado Rapids are operated by Philip Anschutz (also owner of the NHL's Kings), who intends to exercise his option to buy the Chicago franchise when MLS expands in 1998.

"Weapons" is a hilarious and scary take on where sports and media are heading as they approach the 21st Century. To hammer its point just that much harder, one of its media barons inherited his wealth from a father's fortune made . . . in the cesspool business.

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