TV traps ready for the oven

But West in “Winning Time” doesn’t square with the real memories of Jerry West, or the memories of many others who were part of the Lakers organization at the time. When West recently called on HBO to recant and apologize, several show personalities, including Abdul-Jabbar (who also objected to his own portrayal) and former Forum executive Claire Rothman, did not. were quick to take his side. They maintain that West was not a crier and was not erratic in his work and that they never saw him drinking in his office. And while it’s always possible that time and friendship have sweetened everyone’s memories, it’s worth noting that West’s more outrageous moments on the show aren’t in Pearlman’s book. In response to West’s criticism, HBO released a statement saying “Winning Time” is “based on extensive factual research and reliable sources”, but is “not a documentary”.

The same could be said for a lot of shows these days. From the latest iteration of “The Staircase,” dramatizing a mysterious death in North Carolina that was chronicled in a 2004 documentary, to “WeCrashed,” about the failed start-up WeWork, to “Pam & Tommy.” , which reimagines Pamela Anderson and The Marriage and Sex Tape of Tommy Lee, contemporary television is awash with semi-fictional accounts of recent events. These shows sidestep the logistical and cost issues associated with telling a new story from scratch by falling back on a pre-made narrative. The reason for this boom — call it Oven-Ready TV — is the same reason Hollywood produces superhero movies: It’s seen as a safe form of intellectual property to invest in. ”True-crime journalist-turned-TV writer Bruce Bennett told me. “If you walk in the door presenting something that was done in another medium or in another arena, there is a built-in sense of security and familiarity for the people in development and production who have to pay for the thing.”

The starkest recent example of this phenomenon is “The Dropout,” Hulu’s arc dramatization of the rise and fall of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, which followed the 2018 book “Bad Blood.” , an overlapping podcast series and an HBO documentary by Alex Gibney called “The Inventor.” Watching the dramatization back to back with Gibney’s film, it’s striking how alien Holmes seems in real life compared to Amanda Seyfried’s excellent humanizing portrayal. Where “Winning Time” uses West’s persona to amp up the drama, “The Dropout” seems to tone down Holmes for its own ends — making her more likable, more likeable. It’s an understandable narrative decision, but also a curious one, given how easy it is to observe the real Holmes in so many places and notice the stark difference. (Another recent example, “Inventing Anna,” had many reporters rolling their eyes for its inauthentic portrayal of the reporting process and life at New York magazine.)

“If you walk in the door presenting something that was done in another medium or in another arena, there’s a built-in sense of security and familiarity.”

But what do any of these shows owe to the people it represents and to the viewer who spends many, many hours with characters they might reasonably expect to resemble the real thing? West, a victim of child poverty and domestic abuse, has been painfully candid about the adverse circumstances that shaped him and his desperate bouts of anxiety and depression. He wrote about it in his 2011 autobiography, “West By West: My Charmed, Tormented Life,” and a wonderful Sports Illustrated article the same year went even further to chronicle West’s struggles with self-loathing. self and suicidal thoughts.

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