Sunday, January 16, 2000

Clooney hopes to inject some 'live' into television




BY JOHN KIESEWETTER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        PASADENA, Calif. — George Clooney hopes his fond memories of his father's live Cincinnati TV shows helps revive TV's golden age of live drama.

        “We'd love to do what Playhouse 90 was,” says Mr. Clooney, promoting his live black-and-white telecast of Fail-Safe at the TV critics' winter press tour here.

        The former ER star will produce and star in the two-hour drama April 9. It will be CBS' first live drama broadcast since Playhouse 90 ended in 1960, the year before Mr. Clooney was born.

        “Live television is great. It's a great sort of forum to work in,” says the 1979 Augusta High School graduate who grew up around the live weekday variety shows hosted by his father, Nick, on WCPO-TV (Channel 9) and WKRC-TV (Channel 12) in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

        “We were around it my whole life. And to me, I always find it to be much more interesting ... because of seeing how much fun my dad had,” he says.

        “It would really be fun to make them an on-going thing, and do four of them a year. That's something we ... talked about doing.”

        Mr. Clooney, who convinced ER producers to broadcast a live episode in 1997, says the first idea he pitched to CBS as part of his program development deal was a live restaging of Fail-Safe with ER co-star Noah Wyle.

        The 1964 black-and-white Cold War thriller about a U.S. bomber accidentally ordered to drop a nuclear warhead on Moscow is his “favorite film of all-time,” he says.

        “I used to screen that movie over at my house all the time, and make people watch it,” Mr. Clooney says.

        He remembers grazing through channels as a kid and stumbling upon the 1964 movie starring Henry Fonda, Walter Matthau, Larry Hagman and Fritz Weaver.

        “I sat there with my mouth open for the last hour of it. And I couldn't believe what I was watching,” he says.

        Mr. Clooney has enlisted original Fail-Safe screenwriter Walter Bernstein to revise the script. He says the 34-year-old story still resonates today, a decade after the fall of Communism.

        “The question is whether or not machines, and our technology, get ahead of us and actually put us in jeopardy of nuclear war,” he says.

        “It's a very personal story about several million people being killed, and that doesn't happen very often,” he says. “There are these characters who are making decisions on a lot of people's lives, and negotiating how many people they'll kill, and there's a logic to it.

        “I remember when I saw it the first time, I couldn't believe what they were doing, and I couldn't believe the ending.”

        Mr. Clooney will play U.S. Air Force bomber pilot Jack Grady. Mr. Wyle will play the president's interpreter. Other cast announcements will be made soon, he says.

Dad says no way
        During the press conference, Mr. Clooney named only one person to turn down a role in the film — his dad, the former news anchor and local actor who hosts mornings on WSAI-AM (1530).

        “I said, "Come on, come on, be a senator or something.' (But) he won't do that. He will never do it,” he says.

        Mr. Clooney says that his father's response upon being told about the live network telecast was: “What are you, stoned?” Then he hastens to add: “He's pretty excited about it.”

        Since leaving ER last February, Mr. Clooney has completed two feature films: Joel and Ethan Coen's Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? and Wolfgang Petersen's The Perfect Storm. He's just signed to reprise Frank Sinatra's role of Danny Ocean in a remake of Ocean's 11.

        For CBS, his Maysville Pictures company (named after his father's hometown) is preparing a pilot for a fall drama series, looking for ideas for two other series commitments, and thinking about more live dramas. He talks about live productions of A Thousand Clowns, old Twilight Zones, or other scripts by Rod Serling or Paddy Chayefsky.

        “It would be fun to sort of treat those like our Shakespeare, and show them again ... and do them live,” he says. “If we do it right, maybe we can open up a different door for television.”

        TV Critic John Kiesewetter is reporting from the Television Critics Association's winter press tour.

Clooney won't be upset if he doesn't return to 'ER'