Looking at "In the Line of Duty: Ambush in Waco" in a vacuum, it's an OK TV movie.
But looking at it in terms of when it will air - and when it was made - brings up the question of whether this was a movie that should have been made at all."Ambush at Waco" deals with David Koresh, the Branch Davidians and their conflict with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. It does not, however, deal with the 51-day standoff - the movie ends just after the shootout between cult members and the ATF that began that ordeal.
Like the rest of the "Line of Duty" series - including the one about the Singer-Swapp clan here in Utah - "Ambush at Waco" is rather workmanlike. To its credit, it doesn't try to sensationalize an already sensational event.
On the other hand, there's nothing new here. No real insight into what happened.
And, as a docudrama, it mixes fiction and fact. How could it accurately recreate events when many of those portrayed didn't live to tell their stories?
Then there's the question of timing. This movie went into production during the standoff. The cast and crew were working at a replica of the compound while the real compound burned.
"I can't tell you how eerie it was to be playing a guy who was alive in the morning and who was presumed dead that afternoon," said Tim Daly ("Wings"), who portrays Koresh in the movie.
The actor has no regrets, he said in a telephone interview.
"This was a story that was going to be made," Daly said. "And I realize that it's surprising, the speed at which this got under way.
"On the other hand, I think that a movie can't be judged until it's finished because the speed at which you do something isn't always the criterion for whether it's good or not. And I was convinced before I took the role that (producer) Ken Kaufman and his company and Dick Lowery, the director, were going to do everything in their power . . . to make this a responsible and interesting movie."
"I don't think they set out to make a movie that's sensational."
But that's only part of the question. Regardless of whether it's
sensational, should producers and networks be in such a rush to bring these ripped-from-the-headlines stories to television that they're filming while events are still unfolding?
I would respectfully submit that, no, they shouldn't. No matter how you justify it, this is exploitation of human tragedy for ratings.
"I knew that there would be some controversy," Daly said. "But I also knew that the controversy would be coming from people who had been parked outside the compound from the moment the raid started and were, in a sense, exploiting the story for everything it was worth for their own purposes."
Again, I would respectfully submit that there's a big difference between reporting on a tragedy and making that tragedy into a vehicle for entertainment.
And I have some difficulty with the entire based-on-a-true-story genre that so permeates network television these days. Again, these are not documentaries - they're an uneasy mix of fact and fiction.
But the viewer has no way of knowing what is fact and what is fiction. And all too many viewers come away with the idea that they are some sort factual account.
Daly even expressed the hope that "Ambush in Waco" would "put this entire episode in our history into sort of a human, emotional context. And to help people who may not have followed the story as closely as I did . . . to get a handle on the kind of things that were going on."
Excuse me, but what viewers will be getting a handle on won't be the truth. This is a movie designed to entertain, not inform.
Daly came closer to reality when he said, "Given the limitations of the amount of time we have to tell the story it will give a flavor of what went on in there."
Whatever the ethical shortcomings of these movies, they aren't going to go away until Americans stop watching them. And Americans watched all three Amy Fisher movies in great numbers.
So, in search of ratings, NBC commissions and broadcasts "Ambush at Waco" on Sunday. And "The Hurricane Andrew Story" on Monday. And "Terror in the Towers" (the World Trade Center bombing) on Monday.
And exploits the tragedies.