Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Moving The Needle

I consider The China Syndrome one the best thrillers ever made about a near-catastrophe. I also consider it one of the best movies about the TV news business. Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas and Jack Lemmon -- along with the always-likeable Wilford Brimley -- turn in command performances.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
Although many people will tell you the film is about the dangers of nuclear power, it's really about the dangers of people who cut corners, suppress the truth, and compromise their integrity leaving others to deal with the consequences. But why should I try to describe it when you can watch it for yourself in this nail-biting scene:

As many of you know, this film came out 12 days before the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, giving it an eerie spotlight. The nature of the accident was also eerily similar.

First, here's CBS News explaining the Three Mile Island accident.

And here's a scene from the movie explaining what happened -- listen carefully for another eerie coincidence when the expert explains the China Syndrome:

Back to the journalism part. Jane Fonda plays Kimberly Wells, a soft features reporter. Her job is going off to do fun live shots which don't look so fun when they nearly don't come together. Watch this clip and you'll see what I have gone through in the control room as a news producer when these shots barely make it on the air.

Kimberly is hungry to do hard news. Her boss, however, prefers to keep her soft and pretty. The subtle sexism reeks in this scene:

Can you imagine any newsroom leader keeping his job in the MeToo age after a conversation reeking of chauvinism?

Still, Kimberly is getting to work on a special report which takes her into the heart of a nuclear power plant.

You can see how much those old TV film crews had to lug around. I remember having to lug around a 3CCD video camera, 3/4"-inch U-Matic tape deck and lighting gear when I got to go into the Callaway County nuclear power plant near Fulton, Missouri for a story on how re-fueling re-fueled the economy of the surrounding area.

Here's me in that 1993 report:

You didn't see it in the story, but I recorded all those shots inside the plant wearing a yellow radiation suit and badge along with a hard hat.

Fortunately, I didn't have to endure a turbine trip.

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