Below, Ron Wynn takes a look at some upcoming TV highlights, including tonight's premiere of You Don't Know Jack on HBO.
Although HBO has built its reputation over the last few years on innovative and edgy weekly television shows, it also remains a place where ambitious directors can make risky, top-flight feature projects. Their latest venture in that regard airs 8 p.m. tonight when Al Pacino stars in You Don't Know Jack, Barry Levinson's film about the man nicknamed "Dr. Death," Jack Kevorkian.
Kevorkian's position on assisted suicide and his willingness to participate in helping terminally ill patients end their lives eventually led to a second-degree murder conviction and prison sentence. But prior to that he was among the nation's most publicized and controversial figures, interviewed by Mike Wallace and Barbara Walters.
Levinson's film doesn't try to sugarcoat or hide its position. Though Pacino reins in the histronics and fiery speeches that have long been his trademark, he plays Kevorkian as a heroic figure confronting an antiquated medical estabishment, plagued by a legal community where prosecutors are more interested in publicity-seeking criminal actions than the dictates of patients. Those who don't found Kevorkian ghoulish will no doubt have problems with Levinson's structure, but advocates of assisted suicide will applaud both Pacino's portrayal and the film's thematic evolution. Besides Pacino, other mainstays in the cast include Susan Sarandon, Brenda Vaccaro and John Goodman.
You Don't Know Jack isn't a straightforward biopic. Kevorkian's early life and background are virtually ignored, and it begins with him already a 61-year-old medical veteran. He's nearly ready to retire until his life is changed when he becomes convinced patients have the right to end their own lives. From that point the movie spotlights his various legal battles, media interviews and ultimately losing final trial, culminating with his release from jail at 79.
Whatever your position on the issues under examination, You Don't Know Jack is anything but routine television viewing.
'When Love Is Not Enough' first-rate
After years of heartache, pain, loss and turmoil in their marriage, Bill and Lois Wilson founded Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon respectively. Sunday's When Love Is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story (WTVF-Channel 5, 8 p.m.) features Winona Ryder and Barry Pepper as the troubled couple, revealing the many ugly things that happened during their time together. The slate includes two miscarriages and a host of other horrible things, many directly connected to Bill Wilson's uncontrolled drinking.
While extensive biographies and profiles have been written about both the Wilsons and the organizations that they founded, this film offers a strong and poignant look at their life and times.
'Damages' in peril
Even though it's not 24, the clock is definitely counting down for the heralded and award-winning drama Damages on FX. The third season ended April 19 without a decision being made on whether it would return next year. Despite the Emmys and critical praise, ratings plummeted even more this past season, particularly among the 18-49 crowd whom advertisers value most.
There have been rumors of a cost-sharing deal between Direct TV and FX similiar to the agreement the satellite provider has with NBC on Friday Night Lights. But that remains an iffy proposition, though Direct TV reportedly is willing to consider that type of arrangement.
Unfortunately, Damages may be another of those shows that will never be popular in either the audience or advertiser sense. It's neither a procedural nor a soap opera, outlandish comedy or fantasy saga, and shows about complicated legal issues without clearly defined good and bad characters can be a tough sell, even on cable. But hopefully a last-minute pact can save a real treasure.