It”s amazing what the networks can pull off when their backs are to the wall during the summer, or what people like to affectionately call “rerun hell.” Ironically, ABC has turned the camera on itself and decided to break all the rules with its new addition “The Beast” premiering Wednesday.
“The Beast” depicts the on and off camera dealings of the World News Service, an upstart CNN-type news organization. Combining voyeurism and sensationalism into one grand scheme of a higher purpose, “The Beast” mixes live television with web casts from hidden cameras documenting every move of the staff. “The Beast” allows us to take a perspective on the news business that many of us have taken for granted. In an age of 15 minutes, where even a reporter from a minor local network can gain national celebrity, “The Beast” forces us to look past appearances and see the truth. Of course, this truth can only come out with a camera in your face.
Introducing us to the “Beast” is Alice (Elizabeth Mitchell, “Frequency”) a somewhat innocent and nave journalist immediately inducted into the backward dealings of WNS and its master Jackson Burns (Frank Langella), a media mogul educated on modern technology he made his fortune off selling violent video games striving to find the honesty and vivacity that journalists have lost in the age of celebrity. In an attempt to win her over, Jackson sends Alice on a mission to capture the last moments of a death-row inmate set to die. Instead of getting a last minute confession, Alice ends up promising a televised execution, landing in the middle of a heated death penalty debate.
Meanwhile, hotshot reporter Reese (Jason Gedrick, “The Last Don”) finds himself alienating mad bomber Bobby James, who believes that the media are “the black hole of Western culture.” Refreshingly, Reese dismisses Bobby on air every chance he gets, throwing Bobby”s own need for celebrity right back in his face.
From the start, you could look at “The Beast” as a new “NYPD Blue” trying to attract viewers with a new look and style (i.e. the swish pan), but “The Beast” puts a new spin on the capabilities of television. Smoothly moving from live to taped footage, it feels as though we are watching from the perch of Harry, the man behind the curtain of WNS, carefully logging all the footage before us.
The writing is also surprisingly fresh and a bit intimidating. News producer Ted (Peter Riegert) puts forth one of the best lines on TV when talking about airing a live execution Tim McVeigh-style: “This is extreme reality. If you put something like this on TV It”s just TV.” Can you image Barbara Walters feeling bad about airing out Nicole Kidman”s dirty laundry or Peter Jennings giving the finger to the camera? The cast of “The Beast” makes it their job to make you look at the world differently, not just in black and white.
Created by a team of Hollywood hotshots like Mimi Leder (“Deep Impact”) and Kario Salem (“Don King: Only in America”), and backed by the producing team of Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, “The Beast” looks to gobble up what little summer competition it gets.
If you take up one new thing this summer, don”t let it be watching reruns of your favorite show. “The Beast” is waiting for you, and it”s always hungry.