Comic Book Geeks Fight Chris Carter Over Harsh Realm

Wednesday, Oct. 13

Andrew Paquette and James Hudnall are a couple of comic book geeks. In late 1998, it looked like they would finally hit it big. That’s when Chris Carter, the TV genius behind The X-Files , began working up a new series based on their comic book, Harsh Realm , for Fox.

But now that the show has made its debut, the comic book kids are feeling ripped off.

Harsh Realm , a show about a virtual-reality world ruled by a renegade U.S. military dictator, premiered Friday, Oct. 8, to somewhat disappointing ratings. (Its 5.4 rating was the same as World’s Most Shocking Moments the Friday before.) Mr. Paquette and Mr. Hudnall are receiving some royalties, but they’re unhappy that they are not listed in the credits as the original creators. Only Mr. Carter was. So now they have a New York lawyer drafting a lawsuit to get them a more prominent credit and a bigger share of the money.

“He wouldn’t have come up with this idea if it weren’t for this comic book,” said Mr. Hudnall in a phone interview from his Las Vegas home.

“Chris Carter is the biggest man in Hollywood,” said Mr. Paquette, a Studio City, Calif.-based illustrator. “What does it hurt him to give us an honest, truthful credit?”

Mr. Paquette, 34, and Mr. Hudnall, 42, seem like guys Mr. Carter would want to help out. Both sci-fi and computer buffs, they’re not all that different from the trio of misfit computer-whiz conspiracy theorists who often help agents Scully and Mulder in their X-Files adventures.

Mr. Hudnall conceived Harsh Realm in 1988 and sold Harris Publications on it in 1991. First published in 1992, it features a medieval fantasy world that has been created by a computer using quantum mechanics. The world is ruled by a tyrannical teenager whose worried parents send a private investigator after him. A friend of Mr. Carter’s, Dan Sackheim, optioned Harsh Realm in 1996. Mr. Carter began to see Harsh Realm as a potential replacement for The X-Files and dispatched Fox lawyers to go buy it for him in the fall of 1998, Mr. Hudnall said.

Mr. Carter’s Harsh Realm is significantly different from the comic. For starters, his Harsh Realm is a virtual-reality world resembling a post-apocalyptic modern city run by a renegade U.S. Army guy. The hero is a young hotshot soldier.

Mr. Carter wouldn’t comment on the current situation, but he recently told Starlog magazine: “It’s a big departure from the comic book idea. We’ve changed everything. The comic book does have a [virtual reality] component. But beyond that, we really haven’t saved much.”

If the suit actually materializes, it would be the second involving Mr. Carter and 20th Century Fox in three months. In August, X-Files star David Duchovny charged that the studio undersold X-Files syndication rights–costing him millions–and kept Mr. Carter quiet by offering him a sweetheart contract and a new series deal; the Duchovny suit, however, manages not to specifically name Mr. Carter, nor does it say whether the series deal in question was for Harsh Realm .

Accordingly, on Oct. 4, Mr. Hudnall and Mr. Paquette were told that, indeed, they would not get a screen credit, and Fox felt no legal obligation to give them one. It did agree to thank the publisher, Harris, in the end credits.

Ray Bragar, the lawyer employed by the comic book guys, said Harris improperly negotiated the Fox deal. Executives for Harris didn’t comment. Fox studio executives had no comment.

Tonight, watch Mr. Duchovny in Ruby , with Danny Aiello as the Dallas nightclub impresario. [HBO, 32, 4:40 A.M.]

Thursday, Oct. 14

As NYTV reported earlier this month, Bob Zmuda’s Andy Kaufman bio, Andy Kaufman Revealed! , has it that Kaufman was tricked by Dick Ebersol, the NBC sports chief who ran Saturday Night Live in the early 80’s.

According to the book, Mr. Ebersol agreed to hold a telephone vote on whether Mr. Kaufman should be allowed to stay on the show. Kaufman understood that if he was voted down, his alter ego, Tony Clifton, would take his place. But after he was voted off the show, Mr. Ebersol would not return Kaufman’s phone calls, Mr. Zmuda reports. But, Mr. Zmuda told NYTV, it’s possible Mr. Kaufman kind of had it coming.

“When the time came when Lorne Michaels left and Ebersol came in to produce the show, he starts questioning Andy’s material, and Andy is highly offended by this,” Mr. Zmuda explained. “At the same time, I must say that Dick Ebersol is the guy that discovered Andy and put him on SNL , so it was kind of like, ‘Hey, kid, I can make you, I can break you.’ So maybe Andy disrespected the guy, and because of that the guy went, ‘Well, fuck you, I’m the goddamned producer of this show.'”

But Mr. Ebersol tells an entirely different story. Tonight, on Headliners & Legends With Matt Lauer , Mr. Ebersol talks about the Kaufman situation and says he made it clear to the comedian that if they went ahead with the vote, it would have to stick. “This is what I kept preaching to him: There is a basic compact with the audience. When you do this, it can’t be a joke,” he said. “Andy lost, and I was devastated.” [MSNBC, 43, 10 p.m.]

Friday, Oct. 15

First Fox was calling its new Philly cop show Ryan Caulfield . Then it changed the name to The Badlands . Now it’s Ryan Caulfield: Year One , and it debuts tonight. [WNYW, 5, 8 P.M.]

Saturday, Oct. 16

On Pamela Anderson’s post- Baywatch bodyguard show, V.I.P. , that zany Maxine (Angelle Brooks) invents something that is accidentally turned into a nuclear weapon. No worry, though, all the messy nuclear physics certainly will be boiled down into easily digestible terms. [WNYW, 5, 1 a.m.]

Sunday, Oct. 17

Larry David held a lunch with reporters on Oct. 7 to talk about his new one-hour HBO special and, wouldn’t you know it, the caterers forgot to take his order. Typical.

“Boy, the service here isn’t too good,” Mr. David deadpanned as the reporters began receiving their appetizers and he sat behind an empty table setting.

Even with a reported $242 million in the bank–making him No. 2 on the 1999 Forbes list of highest-earning entertainers–the Seinfeld co-creator somehow has held onto his downtrodden exterior. And the little things still get to him, though, he admits, not as much as they might have before the bonanza.

Mr. David is not much of a schmoozer. But his HBO special, called Larry David: Curb Your Enthusiasm , starts airing tonight, so he has to do the rounds. The show is a mock-umentary about Mr. David’s return to the standup circuit. If it’s well received, Mr. David said, he will consider doing it as a regular HBO series.

It has a Larry Sanders feel to it. In it, Mr. David shows that he really is the key guy behind Seinfeld . There’s a lot of George Costanza in the Larry David character of the HBO special: He lies about sending flowers to a friend’s mother’s funeral, and he is easily slighted. There’s a scene where he gets into a bitter feud with comedian Caroline Rhea because he mispronounces her name and then gets angry when she corrects him.

Sitting awkwardly at the table with reporters, Mr. David was asked if all the money and recognition has spoiled his act a bit.

“Maybe you lose a little hostility, either through age or money, but I don’t know,” he said. But then he remembered that he had earlier lost it on a television reporter who asked a dumb question. “So, yeah, I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s changed my sense of humor in the least.” Right. You don’t have to be bitter to be annoyed. And Mr. David still gets damn annoyed. Take the recent time he went to dinner at a friend’s friend’s house: “We were on vacation and this guy we knew wanted to introduce my wife and I to his friends, and we came in and my friend said to the woman about me, ‘He’s the co-creator of Seinfeld ,’ and the woman said, ‘Never watch it, not a fan.’ Out of respect to my friend, I didn’t do anything, but I was steaming for about 20 minutes. I just wanted to get out of there.”

That line pops up in the HBO special. And Mr. David is still smarting over the lackluster reviews his Seinfeld finale received. “I don’t know what people could have expected from the finale that they didn’t get,” he said. Still, Mr. David, shleppy in a blue blazer and gray rugby shirt, white tennis sneakers and tube socks, was being treated like a world record holder. When the group kept pressing him on why no one has been able to match the success of Seinfeld , he groused, “I’m not an expert on television. I happened to run a show.” [HBO, 32, 10 P.M.]

Monday, Oct. 18

Witness the return of Gonzo Gates in Safe Harbor , where Gregory Harrison plays a small-town sheriff whose wife mysteriously died. [WPIX, 11, 9 P.M.]

Tuesday, Oct. 19

It was just a year ago when Court TV seemed on its way out–a has-been network that would go the same way as any interest in O.J. Simpson. But third-quarter cable ratings show something amazing: the tiny cable channel, owned by Time Warner, Liberty Media and NBC, has crawled out of its hole, gaining 400 percent in the prime-time ratings. This past September, 170,000 households tuned into Court TV compared with 40,000 in September 1998. What happened? Court TV bought Homicide reruns, which lured viewers, most of them women, to other shows like Crime Stories . “That loud click you heard on Oct. 5, 1995 [the end of the O.J. trial], was most of the viewing public changing channels,” said Gig Barton, head of Court TV’s ad sales. “Now it’s a really great place to be.”

Tonight on Crime Stories : the plight of two black men wrongly sent to death row on murder charges. [Court TV, 40, 10 P.M.]

Home Movies With Peter Bogdanovich

The lives of most child stars unfortunately do not have happy endings. Why so many of them have to endure hell in later life has a lot to do with our ever-more-disposable society, the nature of American movie fame and each individual family taking such risks with their children. Bobby Driscoll was a favorite kid actor with audiences from 1946 through 1950, while the boy was ages 9 to 13. Because he was the first player to sign a long-term deal with Walt Disney’s animation department, most of Driscoll’s work was in family movies that today are somewhat dated ( So Dear to My Heart ) or politically incorrect ( Song of the South ); ones that combine animation with live action ( Melody Time ), and include Disney’s first all live-action adventure, Treasure Island (with a memorable performance by Robert Newton as Long John Silver). But Bobby’s biggest claim to immortality was also his best movie, the one for which the Academy voted him a Special Oscar as “the outstanding juvenile actor of 1949″: among pictures’ most fortuitous happy accidents, that little-known, modest but absolutely riveting New York thriller, The Window [Tuesday, Oct. 19, American Movie Classics, 54, 4:45 a.m.; also on videocassette] .

A picture my parents took me to see more than once in its original run, The Window was one we all liked a lot, my mother pointing out that it was essentially a modernized variation on the old cautionary fable about “the boy who cried wolf.” Seven years later, I saw the movie again and noted in my movie-card file: “Breathlessly tense and suspenseful, superbly written and directed, brilliantly played–by Bobby Driscoll–thriller about a young boy who is a perpetual liar, the murder he really sees and his desperate attempts to make parents, police and neighbors believe him; only the killers do.”

Tightly adapted from ace crime writer Cornell Woolrich’s novel, The Boy Who Cried Murder , the film is the single most notable work in director Ted Tetzlaff’s otherwise fairly undistinguished career. But as director of photography, Tetzlaff had been involved in numerous memorable pictures, from early Frank Capra through such favorites as My Man Godfrey , and one of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpieces, Notorious , shot only three years before The Window and clearly an inspiration in technique. Other valuable ingredients include typically fine understated work from the superb Arthur Kennedy, right around the time he won a Tony for his performance as Biff in the original production of Death of a Salesman ; Orson Welles veteran Paul Stewart as an inexorable heavy; two excellent women, Barbara Hale and Ruth Roman; and the gritty, sweaty feel of a lower East Side tenement neighborhood at the height of summer heat.

After The Window , Driscoll appeared in only three other pictures worth noting: as Jim Hawkins in the likable Treasure Island , as a boy coming of age in the charming, forgotten little movie The Happy Time and as the voice of Disney’s animated Peter Pan . By then he was 16 and all washed up: Nobody wanted him anymore in pictures or TV. At 18, he did one little feature, then another three years later and that was it. As he turned 21, drugs began to take over his life. Arrested a few times for different things, he moved to New York when he was 28 and, three years later, in 1968, his body was discovered in a broken-down, abandoned tenement building not unlike the ones in The Window , dead from a heart attack at 31, buried as a John Doe in a pauper’s grave. It wasn’t until a year later that fingerprints proved the body to have been Bobby Driscoll’s. Certainly the climax of his short career, The Window is the best way to remember him.