Classic Television Thursday #009 – Fail Safe (2000)

fs1Can a show from the year 2000 be considered “classic television”?

In this particular case, I think the answer is “yes’.

Fail Safe, as noted in Walter Cronkite‘s introduction was the “first feature-length story to be broadcast on CBS in 39 years”. Thus, it is something of a throwback to the early days of television and shows such as Playhouse 90 when live features such as this were the norm and not the exception. It should also be noted that not only was it broadcast live, it was also shown in black and white, giving it even more of an authentic feel.

The story itself, adapted by screenwriter Walter Bernstein from the novel of the same name which was written in 1962 by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler and directed by Stephen Frears, was also something of a throwback, as it played directly toward and highlighted the persistent fears of Americans during the height of the cold war between Soviet Russia and America.

The plot revolves around a cadre of American bombers which have, due to a technical failure, received orders to carry out a bombing mission on Moscow. Unable to recall the bombers or otherwise deter them from their mission, the question becomes just how both sides will respond if they are successful.

The teleplay stars Richard Dreyfuss as the President of the United States, along with George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, Hank Azaria, Brian Denehey, Bill Smitrovich, James Cromwell, Sam Elliott, Don Cheadle, and Noah Wyle.

While I will admit that there are quite a few innovative shows on television right now, (most of them coming from cable sources like HBO rather than the “major” networks) I really do wish that we could get more programming like this. Despite the networks’ arguments (most of which boil down to nobody else is doing it, and we’re scared to give it a try), I think the time is ripe at least for a weekly feature-length anthology series (I’m not even asking for it to be broadcast live) to return to our screens.  The public, I think, has shown that they are willing to support something different if it’s smartly done, and with the number of incredible writers, directors and actors out there who would be willing to do this kind of work as opposed to committing to a full-time series, such a program could really provide even more modern shows that eventually will also be considered “classic”.













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