Plot, dialogue of Moore's play echo '86 TV movie
|||Two shows, one plot|
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
"Dirty Laundry," TV anchor Joe Moore's play about a broadcaster's struggle to square his ethics with the quest for ratings, is strikingly similar in plot, characters, scenes and dialogue to "News at Eleven," a made-for-TV movie released in 1986.
Advertiser library photo
Joe Moore said his work was original.
Advertiser library photo
No one is suggesting the script similarities will cause legal troubles for Moore, but they may undercut his position as one of the most outspoken critics of local TV news.
Both "Dirty Laundry" and "News at Eleven" focus on a news anchor rankled by the arrival of a dishonest news director and a glamorous woman co-anchor who favor sensationalism over responsible coverage. There are nearly identical scenes in both productions involving the on-air interview of an alleged sex-abuse victim, commiserating between the anchor and a colleague over drinks, heated newsroom arguments between the anchor and the news director, the attempted suicide of a person after being ambushed by a camera crew, eavesdropping by the news director and a gimmick at the end that gives the anchor the last laugh.
Moore said yesterday his work was original, though he said that several theatrical works inspired "Dirty Laundry" plot points. He also conceded that he used the "News at Eleven" plot gimmick at the end of his play, but with his own twist.
Moore declined to give a copy of his script to The Advertiser.
Moore said he "used a lot of stuff out of a lot of movies and plays, like 'Broadcast News,' 'The Front Page,' 'Network,' and 'Wall Street,' and even 'All the Presidents' Men.' When I started writing the play, I remembered certain things about other films and things in news that really happened.
"To me, it was pulling out of my memory from many sources; I didn't have the script from that film and I had no intent to plagiarize. The film struck a chord when I first saw it, and it inspired me to write a play about my frustrations on the way the news business was going, because of corporate emphasis on profits and ratings, rather than real news."
For years, Moore has publicly lamented what he describes as the shallowness of television news, with more emphasis placed on entertainment than information.
Gerald Kato, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Hawai'i who saw "Dirty Laundry" on its opening night and has also watched "News at Eleven," said there are too many parallels in both scripts to be coincidence.
"I collect journalism movies," Kato said. "I sometimes use them in my classes; I may teach a course on the image of the journalist in popular cinema, so I picked up a copy of 'News at Eleven.' ... The plot, the dialogue, the characters are similar. There are some changes, but the whole dynamics between news director and anchor are straight out of the movie."
"News at Eleven," which stars Martin Sheen and Peter Riegert, first aired on CBS and has been shown occasionally on various cable networks. "Dirty Laundry" was produced by Manoa Valley Theatre with proceeds from the performances going to benefit the theater.
Both the play and the movie open the same way an anchorman getting a call from a family member about an arrest involving a sexual assault. In Moore's play, the assault suspect is a Roman Catholic priest; in the movie, it's a drama teacher.
Characters speak similar, and in some cases, identical lines in both productions. A helpful prosecutor, a questionable "victim" and cynical news staffers play supporting roles in both productions.
Moore, who at KHON-Channel 2 has been Hawai'i's top-rated anchor for years, said he was surprised that people were flagging similarities between "News at Eleven" and his script, which he said reflects his feelings about the state of his profession.
"I used two or three situations from a movie I saw 15 years ago," Moore said. "We're talking general situations in a two-hour play full of other ideas and situations. Not to make light of it, but I used situations and ideas and several dozen sources, but mostly real life.
"Maybe I could have acknowledged all these sources in our printed program. That seemed unnecessary and impractical to me. It would not have been a problem with such a disclaimer; (but) it just seems to me that someone, for some reason, is trying to make a mountain out of a molehill here."
"News at Eleven" writer-director Mike Robe said he didn't know anything about "Dirty Laundry."
"It's very hard for me to comment, without reading his play, to know just how similar it is. But I'd be curious," Robe said.
Moore said he liked the way Robe's movie ended, with a bit of trickery on the part of the main character, who sets up the gullible co-anchor to report on a bogus raid. So he deliberately used a modified form of the scenario.
"I took that idea and adapted it to Honolulu," he said.
Robe and others said the general themes described not only in the two productions but in dozens of other plays, movies and TV shows are hardly original. Robe said he wrote "News at Eleven," because "I felt strongly, at the time, that broadcast news was turning into a circus. ... It's not a mystery that TV news, especially on the local level, is more entertainment than news."
Legal experts and local artists said yesterday that it is difficult to prove the difference between a work that has been "inspired" by other works or historic events and one that has been copied.
"Copyright protects artistic expression, not ideas," said copyright attorney Martin Hsia. "There is no copyright on a play about Roman Catholic priests. It's already out there."
Hsia has not seen the Moore play or the Robe film, but noted, "similarities can arise from similar subject matters. It would not necessarily be impermissible to take artistic expression (such as plot twists) when you deal with similar subjects."
Y York, a Hawai'i-based playwright whose works are regularly staged by the Honolulu Theatre for Youth, said the question of acknowledging the work of others was open to interpretation.
"Generally, if you do an homage, you credit sources," she said. "But it's a case-by-case thing. I don't know the issues at hand. In Joe's case, I have to think it's an accident."
Reach Wayne Harada at firstname.lastname@example.org, 525-8067 or fax 525-8055.
Correction: Attorney Martin Hsia's first name was incorrectly reported in a previous version of this story.