May 23, 1988 12:00 PM

ABC (Sun.-Mon., May 22-23, 9 p.m. ET)


After Oliver North finished testifying to Congress each day last summer, they should have kept the lights on, replaced the TV cameras with movie cameras and brought in an actor—say, Eric Roberts—to repeat the lines North had just said. Boomo. You’d have the instant TV docudrama. That’s practically what PBS did last week with The Trial of Bernhard Goetz. And that’s almost what ABC does here with Baby M, based on the over-publicized custody fight between a father and the surrogate mother he hired. The ink is still sticky on newspapers reporting the latest developments in the case, yet already we have a miniseries about it with energetic but shallow performances by JoBeth Williams as Mary Beth Whitehead, the surrogate mother; John Shea as William Stern, the father; Robin Strasser as Stern’s wife (see story, page 55), and Bruce Weitz as Whitehead’s husband. Along with tapes of the show, ABC sent a letter to critics explaining why Baby M was made so quickly, which must mean that the network knows we have cause to wonder. The letter says that ABC wants us to “come away with a greater understanding of the pain experienced by all parties involved, with the realization that there is no pat solution to this ultimate human dilemma.” What bull. ABC just wanted to make the mini before someone else did. I don’t see what is accomplished by making us feel another person’s pain, unless we are all in a position to either alleviate or avoid that pain ourselves—and it is way too soon for that in this case. As for this being the “ultimate human dilemma”—well, I can think of better candidates for that title: war, for one. In a press release, the producers tried explaining their goal: “to tell the story without adopting any one point of view.” Odd, but that is precisely what news reporters are still doing in this case. So even after reading ABC’s letters, I’m still left wondering why this mini was made now. Here’s my answer: Baby M, America’s Most Wanted and Unsolved Mysteries all try to simulate the drama and tragedy of a news story—while it is still painful and fresh—for the profit of the networks and not that of the audience or the victims. I still call that exploitation.

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