USA cancels a true crime movie, fearing copycats and maybe sponsors
Who says TV doesn’t operate in the public interest? The USA Network has abruptly canceled production on ”Who Killed Sue Snow?”, a true crime movie about two 1986 drug tampering deaths. The reason? According to the Los Angeles Times, a major commercial sponsor, Johnson & Johnson, threatened to pull all its ads from the network — something the corporation has denied. Johnson & Johnson happens to be the manufacturer of Extra Strength Tylenol, and someone, in 1982, tainted packages with cyanide and murdered seven strangers. Though those crimes remain unsolved, the resulting scare led to over the counter drugs and other products being sealed in tamper proof containers.
While it’s understandable that a pharmaceutical company wouldn’t want to advertise its products anywhere near this particular TV movie (in the case of the canceled USA flick, it was Bristol Meyers Squibb’s Excedrin, not Tylenol, that was poisoned), what’s really fascinating is the cable network’s stated reason for backing off: fear of copycat crimes. ”USA Network and its advertisers agreed that it would be in the public’s best interest to stop production of this movie,” a USA spokesman told the New York Daily News. ”Even the slightest chance of somebody committing a copycat crime would be shirking our public responsibility.”
Right. That must be why USA is presenting ”The Stalking of Laurie Show” (Dec. 12 at 9 and 11 p.m.), a true crime movie about a Pennsylvania high school student who endured repeated threats to her life before being brutally attacked and dying in her mother’s arms. I can only assume that the repeat broadcasts (Dec. 17 and 23) of this vivid, engrossing motion picture are to ensure the public’s further education in the lively arts of bullying, beating, death threat issuing, date raping, throat slashing, and, of course, stalking. To complete this important curriculum — and maybe so that we may all, in celebration of the holiday season, better terrorize our workplaces and family gatherings — USA’s December schedule also includes: ”Our Mother’s Murder” (sisters suspect their stepfather of killing their abused mother), ”Fighting For My Daughter” (runaway teenager falls in with pimps and streetwalkers), and ”Terror in the Family” (teenage girl physically abuses her parents).
But USA is hardly the only basic cable network that offers this kind of educational programming. Lifetime’s website helps viewers find out when they can see movies like ”Deceived By Trust: A Moment of Truth Movie,” ”When No One Would Listen,” and my favorite, ”Mother, May I Sleep With Danger.” While Lifetime movies are less likely than USA’s to feature overheated sex scenes between Jeff Fahey and Virginia Madsen (the Barrymores of crime TV, those two), and more likely to focus on crusading, aggrieved mothers, they too can help to guide us toward the finer things in life. There are apparently innumerable job openings in the exciting fields of drug addiction, pimping, and low end prostitution. Sure, there’s a lot of turnover, and your best friend will be killed off after the third commercial break, but what does that matter when Lindsay Wagner or Meredith Baxter-Birney is your mom and she’s worried sick about you?
But back to ”The Stalking of Laurie Show.” If you need a sort of flash card reminder as to what this movie’s really teaching, consider USA’s print ads. They depict the chief murderess wearing a black ski mask that reveals her hate filled eyes and puffy, overpainted lips. Oh, and she’s wearing a tiara — she was former prom queen, given to pouting and wearing slutty outfits at her trial. Have you, perhaps, already absorbed the message inherent in this made for TV movie? Maybe next time, when a TV network wants to do something edifying, they’ll make a series about people whose lives have been enriched by taking defense courses. Or they’ll make a two hour special based on Gavin de Becker’s ”The Gift of Fear” — the paradoxically calming bestseller about recognizing real life threats and using your common sense to deal with them. But somehow I don’t think that’ll happen. I don’t foresee much sponsor interest in that kind of programming. And besides, there’s no role there for Jeff Fahey.