Picks and Pans Review: Murder Live!

UPDATED 03/03/1997 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 03/03/1997 at 01:00 AM EST

NBC (Sun., March 9, 9 p.m. ET)

B

Last fall the ABC movie Talk to Me effectively satirized trashy talk shows but left room for another film to handle the subject with a little more style and impact. Now comes this drama, which has abundant style and the impact of a bludgeon.

David Morse plays Frank McGrath, the embittered father of a young woman who appeared on The Pia Postman Show as part of a panel of man haters and was ambushed by a surprise guest who identified her as a rape victim. Frank's daughter committed suicide, but Pia (Marg Helgenberger) plans to milk the tragedy for one more sensational program. Enraged, Frank plants a bomb in Pia's studio, slips into the audience with a detonating device and handgun and hijacks the live telecast, demanding justice and threatening to execute the host. (Memo to Pia: Next time, pre-tape.)

Director Roger Spottiswoode skillfully captures the surface details of the Jenny/Ricki/Sally Jessy genre. Helgenberger's Pia is a perfect combination of phony empathy and exploitative instinct, and Morse manages not to sound like a broken record as Frank filibusters. But the focus shifts needlessly to policeman Clay Maloney (Peter Horton), a hostage negotiator carrying an irrelevant load of guilt. As co-executive producer of the TV movie and co-author of the story, Horton may have had his thumb on the creative scale.

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