''Biography,'' ''The E! True Hollywood Story,'' and ''Chicago Hope'' made news this week

By Joe Flint
Updated July 23, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT
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Life lessons
Go channel surfing any night and you’ll drown in waves of biography-type shows. There’s the good (A&E’s Biography), bad (MSNBC’s Time & Again), and ugly (The E! True Hollywood Story).

And more is on the way. E! will run True Hollywood Story daily starting in August, Today’s Matt Lauer will launch a new bio franchise for MSNBC this fall, and A&E has plans to unveil an all-bio channel.

”It’s a form people are hot on because it looks deceptively easy to do,” says Biography executive producer Michael Cascio.

Problem is, there are only so many folks worth spending an hour on. Take VH1’s Behind the Music. At first it was fun seeing Stevie Nicks et al. babbling about their drug use, but how many times does one need to hear about the woes of rich rock stars? ”It’s the same story,” says Tim Spengler, general manager of media buyer Western Initiative. ”They all break up, then seven years later when they all have nothing, they get back together.”

And then there’s the cheese factor. E!, for example, often relies on tacky reenactments to tell its tales. Its Christian Slater bio described the actor’s battles with the law while showing a staged domestic squabble. And for Chris Farley’s life story, a portly actor was hired to portray Farley’s final drunken hours. That must have been a fun casting session.

Chintzier still is MSNBC’s Time & Again, whose formula pretty much amounts to collecting old news footage of a high-profile personality, plopping Jane Pauley in front of a TelePrompTer, and voila, instant bio.

But none of the above seems to matter in the face of the cheap budgets and solid cable ratings, which consistently justify the shows’ existence. In other words, as far as the nets are concerned, there’s no such thing as a bio hazard.

New Hope
The revamping of Chicago Hope continues with Barbara Hershey as the latest cast addition. She’ll play a hotshot cardiothoracic surgeon on the medical drama. Other new staffers include Lauren Holly as a plastic surgeon and Carla Gugino (Spin City) as a neurosurgeon.

Chicago Hope

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