6/1/01, by Steven Oxman
A mix of "Broadcast News," "Network" and "The Truman Show," ABC
series "The Beast" depicts a TV newsroom in which everyone's every
move is Web-cast. It's a weird concept, created by writer Kario Salem
(HBO pics "Don King: Only in America" and "The Rat Pack"), who, along
with ABC and producers Imagine Television, deserves credit for a
bold, uncommercial effort even though the show never manages to turn
its thoughtfulness into effective drama. Alphabet net will give this
untraditional fare an untraditional summer launch in the Wednesday 10
p.m. slot, in which "Once and Again" struggled during the regular season.
Frank Langella stars as the cryptic media magnate Jackson Burns,
owner and driving force behind the experimental World News Service.
He made his fortune off violent videogames and, to him, a fully
exposed, and therefore completely honest, news service serves as a
type of penance. In the pilot episode, he recruits talented print
journalist Alice Allenby (Elizabeth Mitchell) to join his motley
corps. A pronounced opponent of the death penalty, Alice immediately
makes waves by asking a death row inmate to allow them to broadcast
The strong ensemble cast includes Peter Riegert as a news editor
who's been fired from every traditional network, Jason Gedrick as an
anchor who speaks his mind, Harriet Sansom Harris as a caustic
assistant, and Naveen Andrews, April Grace and Wendy Crewson as
journalists at this 24-hour news channel. ("Why's it called 'The
Beast?,' " one character asks about WNS early on. Answer: "Because
it's always hungry.")
Salem's previous work was with true stories about strong
personalities, and he hasn't yet figured out how to construct
fictional characters in an interesting way. But that's also because
"The Beast" is neither character- nor story-driven -- it's
idea-driven, which is what makes it unique. Unfortunately, the ideas
-- while certainly worth exploring -- are not expanded, developed and
argued with enough alacrity. Should executions be broadcast? This
character says yes, that one says no, with each voicing only obvious
justifications for their opinions.
Mimi Leder directs the pilot with the same frenetic pace she became
familiar with on "ER," and she gets strong support from production
designer James Spencer and editor Marty Nicholson. Director of
photography Charles Minsky smartly mixes in video with film to show
us what's going out over the Web and to remind us that everything
here is being watched. The Webcast is controlled by offstage
character Harry (Gary Werntz); we see only his eyes and mouth in
extreme close-up. He's the ultimate detached observer, and by the
second episode he's already being blatantly compared to God.
Also by the second episode, the plots are already becoming
narcissistic, with these journalists finding their stories way too
close to home. This show seeks to take a hard look at the media and
seems to applaud Burns' effort at full exposure at what goes on
behind the scenes, but it still comes across as one form of media
looking unconvincingly at another.
It's a high-concept TV show about a high-concept TV show within a
high-concept Internet show. It's intriguing, fitfully intelligent,
WAAY TV -- June 3, 2001
The naked and the soon-to-be-dead?
Elizabeth Mitchell's new ABC series, The Beast, is set to premiere on June 13. Elizabeth, who plays a magazine journalist-turned-TV reporter, is reportedly naked during her entire first scene on the show. Mitchell says, "What I liked about that scene is that [my character] is very free ... When we see her (later) interviewing for a job, we've (already) seen her at her most natural, at her most essential, at her most basic." Since it's been widely rumored that she's been in negotiations to continue on as Dr. Kim next year on ER, it remains to be seen (no pun intended) if The Beast will take her away from County General.
US Magazine -- June 11, 2001
The over-the-top permiere episode of this ensemble drama really piles on the goodies: a mad bomber, a televised execution in the electric chair, an NYPD Blue-during-sweeps-quality nude scene featuring Elizabeth Mitchell (the lovely lesbian from both ER and HBO's Gia).
She plays Alice Allenby, a magazine writer who is persuaded by mogul Jackson burns (Frank Langella) to work for his new 24-hour news channel. As one character explains, they call the channel the Beast "because it's always hungry."
You can tell the staff is hip because anchor Reese McFadden (Jason Gedrick) doesn't shave, drinks whiskey at office meetings and talks like Dennis MIller with worse gag writer. The premiere is so frenetic that you can overlook the yadda-yadda about media power ("The camera is God"). Adding to the journalistic nave-gazing is the channel's add policy of broadcasting its inner workings live on the Internet via feeds controlled by a mysterious figure named Harry. ("Harry is God," says Burns, which means logically, that Harry is the camera.) Unfortunately, ABC also sent out for review an under-the-top subsequent episode with subplots involving a career woman's inability to "have it all" and a Touched by an Angel coincidence that helps a widow find closure- in other words, stuff that's already available on plenty of less pompous dramas.
We won't be CNN this show for long.
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