NBC drama nearly comes off the tracks

Preview: Wrong facts nearly derail `Atomic Train.' But if you're inspired by bureaucrat-as-hero you just might want to climb on board.

May 15, 1999|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

"Atomic Train" was supposed to be this real scary NBC miniseries about a train carrying nuclear weapons and deadly nuclear waste careening out of control in the Rocky Mountains and heading straight for Denver.

But, just as the network promotional campaign telling us "it could happen in your backyard" was launched, people who actually knew something about nuclear weapons and nuclear waste informed the network that such waste matter is not carried on trains. It is shipped by truck.

Worse, one of the parties giving NBC the information was General Electric, which owns NBC and other businesses which actually dispose of nuclear waste.

As to the chances of an armed nuclear weapon being on a train, forget about it.

OK, NBC said in response this week, would you believe the miniseries is kind of scary and it probably couldn't happen in your backyard? And, by the way, we're going to do some last minute editing to take out any reference to nuclear waste.

So, why should you watch?

Beats me, unless you're really into Rob Lowe, which is truly a scary thought.

Actually, Lowe isn't all that bad as a National Safety Transporta- tion Board employee who climbs over box cars and hangs from the runaway train for most of Night 1 trying to stop it. A government bureaucrat as hero? That could be a reason to watch. Sure.

I give away nothing by telling you that Lowe fails to stop the train and there's a big, bad crash. Otherwise, what would we have as plot for two more tedious hours on Night 2?

The day-after nuclear explosion storyline was supposed to play at the level of national nightmare. But after all the qualifying and skinbacks by NBC, whatever thrill there was is long gone.

This is one A-Train you definitely don't want to take.

`Atomic Train'

When: 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. tomorrow and Monday

Where: WBAL (Channel 11) Pub Date: 5/15/99

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