Rinky-Dink

April 30, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Let me make a prediction.

After you get done watching "Tonya and Nancy: The Inside Story" on NBC tonight, you're going to want to take a shower -- a long, scalding hot shower. And during the shower, you're going to scrub your body like Lady Macbeth was scrubbing her hands and screaming, "Out, out damned spot."

But I guarantee you that all the perfume in Arabia (to borrow another of the lady's lines) isn't going to wash away the slimy feeling this little made-for-TV flick will leave you with.

And we thought the networks had reached their made-for-TV-movie nadir with the Amy Fisher trilogy last season. Silly, silly, silly us.

Tonight's "Tonya and Nancy" is, infact, written by the great Phil Penningroth, who also wrote "Amy Fisher: My Story" -- the network version of the grand love affair between Amy and Joey Buttafuoco, which resulted in the shooting of Joey's wife. That film was told from poor little Amy's point of view and established a whole new TV genre: the docudrama based on a convicted felon's account of events told for self-aggrandizement and profit.

There's at least one and possibly two more Tonya-and-Nancy movies on the way. Disney and ABC are working together to bring us Nancy Kerrigan's story at some unspecified date. Tonya Harding, meanwhile, has sold her version of events to a production company. However, the production company has not yet found a network buyer. (That's probably only because CBS and Fox spent all their docu-slime dollars on rights to the Menendez brothers' story this spring.)

Tonight's Tonya-and-Nancy movie at 8 on NBC is from the public domain, which means it's a dramatization like the stuff you saw on "Hard Copy," right down to the home videos. Well, almost. The faux home video shown in this movie cuts away from Tonya before she goes topless for her then-husband, the --ing and brilliant Jeff Gillooly.

It seems silly to talk about such a cynical and calculated concoction as this in the usual terms of TV criticism. So, let's get to what really matters in this docu-dreck.

Category One: Do the actors look like the real-life people?

Yes, indeed, they do. Alexandra Powers, who plays the fundamentalist Christian attorney on "L.A. Law," is Tonya Harding, without the extra-hips factor. And Heather Langenkamp has the vacant-pouty, look-I'm-smiling-bravely now Nancy look down cold.

Category Two: Is the crucial real-life event shown over and over and over again in its dramatized form to give us a false sense of realism and create the impression that the event is now being explained?

Yes. The scene of Nancy getting whacked on the knee is shown at least four times, with the audio of her sobbing, "Why, why me . . . I'm so scared. I'm so scared," greatly enhanced. We not only get to see a vivid re-creation, we also get to see Tonya watching it on TV. But a sign of the true greatness of this film is that we also get to watch Shawn Eckhardt, the porky, knuckleheaded bodyguard, tossing his cookies when he sees the video replay. A magical moment.

Category Three: Does the docudrama try to appear socially relevant, socially responsible or somehow not the bucket of sleaze that it really is?

Again, "Tonya and Nancy" gets high marks. Producer Brian Pike, who last May brought us another ripped-from-the-headlines work art, "The Hurricane Andrew Story," uses a technique from documentary filmmaking for this effect.

Actors -- playing reporters, newspaper executives, lawyers, coaches, judges, parents, friends and others involved with the skaters -- appear as talking heads speaking directly to the camera, as if they are being interviewed about the events viewers just saw.

My favorite is the newspaper executive, who says newspapers cynically skewed their coverage of Tonya and Nancy to boost circulation.

"Aw, hell," he confides to the camera, "we're all whores."

Maybe we are. But NBC and the producers of "Tonya and Nancy: The Inside Story" are in a league of their own with this docudrama.

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