30 December 2006 | liquidcelluloid-1
The heroic reporter? It's a premise so pre-"Network" out-of-date that it inspires a head-shake of disbelief
Network: NBC; Genre: Crime/Mystery; Content Rating: TV-PG (language, adult content, some violence); Available: Sleuth Channel; Perspective: Contemporary (star range: 1 - 4);
Seasons Reviewed: Series (1 season)
Before Dick Wolf became married exclusively to the "Law & Order" franchise, he made an attempt to vary it up with "Deadline", a series that takes all of the pavement pounding, suspect interviewing and case building of "Order" and transplants it into the journalism universe.
The always underrated Oliver Platt headlines as Wally, a famous, rule-bending, ego-maniacal reporter for the New York Ledger. Around him are his journalist students as well as reporter Lili Taylor, editor Bebe Neuwirth and his ex-wife Hope Davis all of which's soul job seems to be to keep him under control. I like Oliver Platt and while he is good here, he isn't great on that level that would elevate the tedium of the rest of the series beyond the safe genre trappings that Wolf has set up for himself. Later, Wolf would find a performance that does succeed in elevating one of his shows with Vincent D'Onofrio in "Law & Order: Criminal Intent".
"Deadline" undeniably has a little more spunk and humor than "Order", most of which is provided by the natural comic personality of Platt. It even slips in some witty journalistic observations via Platt's narration. But it is hard to shake the feeling that we're watching the same show all over again. The structure, the tone, the endings - all vintage "Law & Order". "Deadline" also commits the biggest sin on the head of "Order" in terms of the shamefully broad characters of racial, ethnic and just traditional TV stereotypes. The oddly titled camera can't hide that.
In retrospect, the show is forward thinking in some ways and dated in others. In reruns Wolf proves to be more insightful than I'd expect. "Deadline" is one of the few places you'll hear pre-9/11 references to Osama Bin Laden and stories where Wally fights for free speech in the face of corporate censorship feel prophetic.
However, I just can't get over the fundamental premise of the series. Even in 2000, the idea that newspaper reporters are intrepid truth seekers who actively progress through investigations, interview witnesses, go undercover and even step in to right societal wrongs is from a pre-"Network" era so long ago I can't help but look at it in disbelief. After years and years of lawyers and politicians getting a PR makeover on TV it does only make sense that Wolf and NBC would try to turn another one of the most hated professions in America into something heroic.
* ½ / 4