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on: April 30, 2004, 02:05:51 PM

Scientists, Government Decry NBC Miniseries '10.5'
Fri Apr 30, 9:50 AM ET  

By Ben Berkowitz

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - An aide crashes into the White House basketball court, breathlessly telling the sweating leader of the free world: "Mr. President, there's been an earthquake in Seattle."

"How bad is it?"

"The Space Needle has collapsed."

That's so bad that NBC is betting that its May sweeps week disaster mini-series "10.5" starting Sunday for two nights will prove fatal to the competition despite a groundswell of grumbles from critics who say they haven't seen and heard so many cliches assembled under one roof in years.

And scientists are also not happy: they call the whole thing blarney from beginning to end.

"An old-fashioned disaster yarn so ripe with sincerity George Kennedy (news) ought to be in it,'10.5' features a whole lot of shaking and over-acting," says Daily Variety.

Californians spend a lot of time worrying about the "Big One" -- an earthquake so powerful that the whole West Coast begins to break off and float into the Pacific Ocean.

NBC calls such a scenario entertainment, but California officials and academics call it bad science -- and they want the public to be forewarned.

Starring Beau Bridges as the president of the United States and Kim Delaney (news) as a scientist tasked with saving the country from literally going to pieces, "10.5" is one of the network's biggest events of the year and is being advertised heavily on its regular schedule.

But those in charge of protecting the public when earthquakes do happen are unhappy with what they have seen of the miniseries so far, including commercials that feature icons like the Hollywood sign or the Golden Gate Bridge crumbling.

"The first step in being prepared is understanding that Hollywood's upcoming earthquake miniseries puts myth, fantasy and entertainment before factual science," Dallas Jones, head of California's Governor's Office of Emergency Services, said.


Dr. Lucy Jones, the U.S. Geological Survey (news - web sites)'s scientist-in-charge for southern California, laughed when asked how probable or not the movie's themes were.

"It's complete science fantasy. There is nothing in it that's connected to reality," said Jones, who has screened the miniseries. "It's very clear that no scientists were consulted in the making of the movie." But the model makers were-- lots and lots of replicas of California landmarks bite the dust.

The producers do not deny that the movie takes dramatic license when it comes to the science of earthquakes and stress that it was never intended to be factual in the first place.

"It's an event motion picture," Gary Pearl, one of the executive producers of "10.5," told Reuters recently. "Our goal wasn't to teach people about earthquakes, our goal was to excite and thrill an audience."

The networks are no strangers to disaster movies, which tend to draw big audiences, nor are they unused to the controversy that surrounds such films.
Examples abound, including the furor over ABC's nuclear holocaust drama "The Day After" in 1983, which was seen as too graphic but drew a record-setting audience; and CBS's 1999 New York earthquake movie, "Aftershock," which was criticized as being disturbingly detailed.

But Pearl, whose childhood nightmares were the inspiration for the movie, said "10.5" is not about reality, but rather about escapism. "The film is meant to entertain people ... the events in it, hopefully they can't happen," he said.