Sports Pages Needs Rewrite

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The Sports Pages
-a Showtime original movie depicting "classic stories" from the sporting world-gives new meaning to the term creative embellishment.

At least that was the case for the second of the two vignettes in this anthology, a fictionalized depiction of the events surrounding the broadcast of the 1968 "Heidi Bowl" football game between the Oakland Raiders and the New York Jets.

While the "Heidi" story is just confusing, the first of the two snippets-"How Doc Waddems Broke 100," based on a 1920's short story about the golfer's eternal quest-is simply bland, despite the star power of Bob Newhart and Kelsey Grammer.

Newhart, as orthodontist Waddems, plays a typical straightlaced and harried Newhart character-a golfer on trial for the murder of an overbearing partner who's penchant for sticking to the rules prevents Newhart's character from breaking a 100 score at long last.

Newhart usually excels in such a role, but the script isn't up to snuff. And though Grammer's character has some annoying traits, his portrayal of the lawyer is so low-key that Waddems' murderous rage seems almost unjustified.

But the flaws in the golfer's folk tale are almost nitpicky when compared with the all-over-the-road "Heidi Bowl" vignette. The true story is well-known to students of television history: NBC took a hit in 1968 for cutting away from a crucial Jets-Raiders American Football League matchup to get to the children's movie Heidi
on time, and most of New York never knew the Jets had lost in the game's waning seconds.

But writer George Zaloom and director Richard Benjamin weave a contrived tale involving an NBC switchboard operator and her husband; several cops; a bookie; a Vietnam vet master-control rookie and his mentor (Eugene Levy in one of the segment's few bright spots); and a group of teenage Joe Namath fanatics. Every bad 60s cliche is trotted out, from Flip Wilson to Vietnam War flashbacks-and some are out of sequence, like the real-life Curt Gowdy's off-air remark "Eat your heart out, Howard Cosell." (Cosell's Monday Night Football
career didn't start until 1970.)

But what makes the segment most confusing is that the producers interspersed this very fictional account with "real life" commentary from former NBC president Julian Goodman, Raiders quarterback Daryle Lamonica, journalist George Plimpton, Heidi
actress Jennifer Edwards and, inexplicably, former New York City Mayor Ed Koch-who as much as admits he's not a sports fan, and wasn't watching the game (and wouldn't become mayor for another nine years).

The cut-ins do little more than interrupt the dramatic flow of the piece-and serve to remind you that what you're watching didn't really happen.

Fox NFL Sunday
anchorman James Brown, who serves as the film's "host," stiffly sets up both vignettes as if it's a reality show, further confusing matters. The Sports Pages
can't seem to decide if its accounts are fact or fiction.

The telefilm bows Sunday, Jan. 7 at 8 p.m. on Showtime.

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