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''Very Special Episodes'' Explained

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Q: In Broken Arrow, John Travolta explodes a thermonuclear weapon in a copper mine 2,000 feet underground. Could this actually happen without disastrous repercussions, as Christian Slater would have moviegoers believe?

A: Rule No. 1: Never let someone who starred in Kuffs explain nuclear physics to you. ”It’s unlikely anyone would come out unscathed,” says Dr. Henry Shaw, a former nuclear engineer. ”Within an hour, you would be vomiting, turning various shades of green, and, if you had been close enough, die.” So instead of duking it out on a speeding train, Slater and Travolta should have been writhing on their bellies? ”It is possible to have no instant effects,” says Dr. Jay Schwartz, a consultant for the Defense Department. ”But with radiation in the water that got carried out into the stream, they should have been very concerned….” Better not plan that sequel too soon.

Q: A very special Blossom, a very special Beverly Hills, 90210, and, just a few weeks ago, a very special Cybill... Who started this TV scourge, the Very Special Episode, and what makes a normal TV show very special?

A: ”It started in the late ’60s or early ’70s, when TV began to tie in topical events,” surmises Tim Brooks, coauthor of The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows. ”Back in the Ozzie and Harriet days, nobody ever talked about anything special.” Not to mention, anything very special. ”They usually involve Bill Cosby having a heart attack or something,” explains Howard M. Gould, executive producer of Cybill, which tried spoofing the VSE with a show involving Maryann’s ex-husband’s new wife. ”Our episode dealt with mental illness, which classified it as ‘very special,’ but we couldn’t have treated the issue less reverently.” This may be the special way of the future. Chris Keyser, executive producer of Party of Five, which seems to boast a VSE every other week, dreams of poking fun at the moniker: ”We joke that someday there will be a ‘Very Unimportant Episode of Party of Five.’ ”

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