By: JODI B. COHEN
IT’s 5:59 A.M. Meeooww. No need to set your alarm clock. It’s the same meow morning after morning, and this cat is always at your door.
You open the door, and the familiar, adorable Tabby is sitting on a copy of the Chicago Sun-Times that arrives mysteriously on your doorstep.
You check the date, and it’s tomorrow’s paper. The Page One headline screams, “20 killed by insane man in bank.”
Time to save the world . . . again.
So goes a normal day for Chicago stockbroker Gary Hobson, on CBS’s new show, “Early Edition,” which, flaws aside, has promise, according to reviews.
The series has several newspaper angles. It centers around a good ol’ fashioned print newspaper and a reluctant hero who finds he has to answer the question, “What if you knew tomorrow’s news today and could do something about it?” Then there’s the story of how the Chicago Sun-Times got involved, the impact of news on society . . . and what’s with the cat?
“The idea of getting tomorrow’s newspaper and being able to peer into the future is four thousand years old,” said Bob Brush, the show’s executive producer and writer. The idea, said Brush, a self-proclaimed fan of print journalism, is to touch a nerve in society, to comment on positive things like community, personal responsibility and the ability to effect change in life.
It was set in Chicago for two reasons: Brush needed a big city to bring home the idea that society is overwhelmed by crime and violence, and because Chicago is “a great newspaper town,” a part of Middle America and a “gorgeous city with a human feel to it.”
“We are overwhelmed by the size and scope of the news we are confronted with every day,” he said. “We think it’s somehow out of our hands and we forget to look at the small picture, which is when people become desperate for a myriad of reasons.”
The character, Gary Hobson, played by Kyle Chandler, is no Superman. He cannot bend railroad tracks, but he can use his own sense effect change.
“Of course the conundrum he faces is what we all dream about, to have the chance to make $300 million an hour in the stock market,” he said. “What first seems like a lark could become a curse, however. Could you really go out and make a fortune and ignore your responsibility that is staring you in the face each morning?
“What the viewer begins to see in the show is that the paper could only come safely to Gary because he’s got the angel on one shoulder, the devil on the other,” he said.
Gary’s friend, Chuck, played by Fisher Stevens, is only interested in making money off the newspaper, and his blind friend Marissa (Shanesia Davis), serves as Gary’s one-dimensional moral side who means well.
The paper itself has a personality as well, steering Hobson in certain directions. In using the “classic form of news,” the show aims to deal with traditional values.
“In the printed word, which is still the most powerful and authoritarian word, we have this image of those big banner headlines as the motivating events in our lives,” the writer said. Even so, the show tries to establish an air of mystery about the paper ? hence the cat.
“The cat is there because we want viewers to know that there is a living spirit here somewhere,” he said. “And cats go back to Egyptian times when they were treated like gods.”
It does happen that newspapers are wrong ? and this mysterious newspaper can be wrong ? if Gary can alter events.
As the writer sees it, “The newspaper is a ticket to humanity, this is real life.”
Nigil Wade, editor in chief of the Chicago Sun-Times, said originally the show wanted the Chicago Tribune to be the starring newspaper.
When the producers sought Wade’s approval, plans called for Gary, in the first episode, to get the day-ahead Chicago Tribune, and to compare it to the Chicago Sun-Times.
“I was not going to sign off on this Tribune idea because if anyone is going to be a day ahead, it’s going to be us,” Wade said, admitting interest in the series.
“I didn’t expect it to be a big hit. I see a lot of crazy proposals, but I thought, how could it be bad for us,” he said. “I did think it was ridiculous and a little far-fetched, but then I saw the points of having a newspaper a day early, and the moral issues, so then it became an interesting series.”
To assure the Chicago Sun-Times brand is treated properly, the producers had to make sure headlines will be realistic. As it works, the writers, none of them journalists, come up with a plot and make dummy newspaper pages.
“The last headline I saw was ‘Tourist Falls Down Manhole,’ ” Wade said. “If I see something that doesn’t look at all like a heading we would carry, or if it looks poorly laid out, I sometimes make a suggestion to change, or tell them to come up with a new version.”
Wade says he has veto power. However, as long as the writers continue to show him the newspaper, he plans to maintain a good working relationship with the director and his team.
As far as being a star of the show, it’s all in a day’s work for the newspaper.
Wade said Chicago has been the backdrop for newspaper stories since The Front Page was written, and the Sun-Times is hard to miss because its building occupies a prominent position in the city skyline.
As far as the question of conflict of interest if the Sun-Times wants to cover the show, nothing will be done in the news area about it.
“Our reviewer did his own take on it and it was largely positive,” said Wade. “And we also ran a little box of reviews from other papers with a note on
it . . . if you are not sure about going with a review of the paper that lent its name to the show, here are some others.”
Wade said there may be some promotional spin-offs in the future, contests, maybe advertisements, but that’s as far as it goes.
Having a film crew around the building can generate its own fun.
One episode, shot in the building on a Sunday, involved “very dashing young journalistic extras, and they blew up a desk,” Wade said. “Spectacular!”
It’s all been very exciting for the real journalists at the Sun-Times, and the show hasn’t disrupted the workplace.
“One time they were scouting locations and we showed them an office of one of our columnists who is notorious for having a splendidly messy office,” he said. “They said it would take them two weeks to build a set to look like that, so they shot the scenes in his office. We now have people saying, did they get my desk?”
“We don’t go out and get this sort of action, it comes to us,” he said. “Sort of like the cat on the magic paper, it just sort of arrives.”
“In the printed word, which is still the most powerful and authoritarian word, we have this image of those big banner headlines as the motivating events in our lives”
On a new TV show, a metropolitan newspaper symbolizes human events
?(Actor Kyle Chandler stars as Gary Hobson in the new show “Early Editition” with co-star the Chicago Sun-Times.) [Photo & Caption]