Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Close to 'Deadline'

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Close to 'Deadline'

Article excerpt

Reality newspapering comes this October to prime-time TV, starring Oliver Platt, but will the 'Law & Order' gang get it right?

Robert Palm sits at his desk in the old New York Post building on South Street looking at a newspaper clip about a jail guard who had been convicted of mur-dering a drug-addicted prisoner. "Snatches of real stories, that's what we're looking for," he says, as carpenters scurry around him with tools in hand, transforming the old Post offices into a set for a new TV series. Shooting started July 7 for "Deadline," the NBC drama that makes its debut Oct. 2. It stars Oliver Platt as an investigative journalist for The New York Ledger, a paper modeled after the Post or "another daily tabloid with a red stripe on the front page," according to Dick Wolf, the series creator who hired Palm as head writer and executive producer.

Wolf and Palm have already teamed up on "Law & Order," the NBC drama in its 10th year and one of the network's biggest successes, and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." They "didn't want to do another cop show, and journalism seemed good," Wolf explains. "I thought it was an opportunity to present a certain type of New York journalistic character."

Like all of Wolf's shows, "Deadline" will be set in the Big Apple. "Anything that's ever happened on the planet can happen in New York," Wolf has said.

"Deadline" focuses on Wallace Benton, the Ledger's star columnist. He's modeled on Jimmy Breslin, Mike McAlary, and other tabloid columnists, but Platt wants the character to stand on his own. "He's an extremely ambitious, aggressive investigative journalist who's a talented writer and has a broad scope and carte blanche about what he wants to write about," Platt says in an interview. "He's very controversial, under tremendous pressure to produce."

Benton will investigate and write about crimes for the most part, "not limited to organized crime, but crime in all its manifestations, including white-collar," Wolf says. In the pilot episode, Benton reopens an old murder case with columns that seek to prove the innocence of two men on Death Row -- who had been convicted in part because of his earlier articles (see excerpt from script, below).

Plots for the series will be based on true stories from newspaper clips Palm and Wolf find, a strategy they used to create other award-winning dramas. "If you read a story in the paper today, they'll have a script going on it tonight," says Garth Ancier, president of NBC Entertainment, who worked with Wolf and Palm to develop the show. "They love taking current events and putting them into fictional arenas."

But Palm won't just study news clips to write scripts; he'll draw on years of experience as a newspaper reporter. Palm worked at the alternative weekly New Haven (Conn.) Advocate, the Hartford (Conn.) Times, and the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. He remembers breaking a story for the Hartford Times about a local lawmaker who owned drugstores and was bilking Medicare patients. The story "chased [the official] out of office," he says.

Palm claims he "loved" his newspaper career, but he left the business and wrote a movie script, which led him into TV, first with "Miami Vice" and then "Law & Order." He found that TV has its virtues. "The great thing about TV is, instead of getting fired for making up quotes, you get paid a lot for it," he notes.

Oliver's story

Ancier says the show was developed with Platt in mind. "Dick Wolf came to us a year ago intrigued with having Oliver in a show," Ancier says. "He is someone we always wanted to see on television, and this is his first series."

Platt heads a cast that includes Broadway star Bebe Neuwirth (as his editor), and well-known movie actors Lili Taylor (as a gossip columnist) and Tom Conti (as a publisher modeled after Rupert Murdoch). Hope Davis plays a Ledger reporter who happens to be Benton's estranged wife. …

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