When television tells a familiar story, one as familiar as the life and times of Mike Tyson, either the writers and directors must add a fresh perspective or the actors must take the viewers above the predictable for the story to work.
In HBO's "Tyson," which premieres tomorrow at 10 p.m., a collection of compelling performances, especially from relative newcomer Michael Jai White in the role of the fallen champion, raises the two-hour movie beyond the expected to fairly compelling.
White, a former martial arts champion who beat out more than 1,000 others for the role, brilliantly captures the essence of Tyson, alternately and deftly moving from child-like innocence to cold rage.
Watch White's face in a scene where he demolishes two sparring partners after Clark Gregg, as former Tyson trainer Kevin Rooney, challenges his manhood while Tyson is training for the Michael Spinks fight. There is a malevolence in White's eyes that recalls Tyson when he was at the top of his sport.
Likewise, George C. Scott as Cus D'Amato, the man who steered Tyson away from a life of crime on the Brooklyn streets, is excellent as a man who takes on a great talent and teaches him focus but, ultimately, not discipline.
And Paul Winfield takes on the role of the ubiquitous Don King with a kind of evil glee right out of the pages of Margaret Hamilton, the wicked witch in "The Wizard of Oz."
Where "Tyson" stumbles is in its inability, through the direction of Uli Edel, to slow down long enough for the viewer to digest what the events of Tyson's life mean and how they contribute to his fall. But, White's performance alone makes "Tyson" an interesting story of a perfectly flawed man.
By the way, you won't be able to see the real Tyson give his commentary on tomorrow's Vincent Pettway-Simon Brown IBF junior middleweight fight from USAir Arena, or the fight, for that matter, because of a local blackout imposed by Showtime to protect the live gate.
Opening Day jitters
The overnight ratings from Wednesday's Orioles-Kansas City opener on Channel 13 are in and they aren't so good. The game did a 9.7 rating and 25 share of the audience, which is better than any sporting event from the previous weekend, but about half of the 18.7/40 number pulled in for last year's opener.
Feel free to pick your own theory for the slide, but the best one may be that people, even in baseball-crazed Baltimore, just need a little more time to get past their anger at the strike. The folks at Channel 13, who have a 35-game package to sell, not the 65 that was mistakenly written here Wednesday, are certainly hoping the anger is fleeting.
NBC (Channel 11) kicks off its NBA playoff schedule with a doubleheader tomorrow at 12:30 and a tripleheader Sunday at noon. Its lead announce team of Marv Albert, Matt Guokas and Ahmad Rashad will draw double duty, doing tomorrow's Cleveland-New York game and Sunday's Chicago-Charlotte contest.
Likewise, Greg Gumbel, Steve Jones and Hannah Storm double dip in Seattle tomorrow and Phoenix on Sunday. And while Bill Walton will have just one game this weekend, Sunday's Boston-Orlando game, his star is clearly rising with the network, as he will join Gumbel and Jones for the Western Conference championships and Albert and Guokas for the finals.
Welcome to 'The Show'
CBS has scrapped its "Eye on Sports" title, reformatted the program, given it a new host, Pat O'Brien, and renamed it "The Show," or, more formally, the "CBS Sports Show."
Sunday's premiere (Channel 13, 4 p.m.) looks strong, with a U.S. Boxing Association light-heavyweight title fight between James Toney and Anthony Hembrick and the first look at a group of disabled cyclists who are attempting to circle the globe in eight months.
Also, reporter Michele Tafoya and producer Draggan Mihailovich, who won two Emmys this week, have a story of a Russian figure skating troupe searching for funding that will keep them in the United States.
The skating team had been staying in a YMCA just across the street from the Oklahoma City federal building that was destroyed in last week's bombing, and two members were injured in the blast.