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Turning Point the Manson Women: Inside the Murders

Anchor-reporter: Diane Sawyer.

Anchor-reporter: Diane Sawyer.

The greatest stories always have a turning point, a moment when history hangs in the balance or people’s lives are changed forever,” explains the ABC News press release about its new series, “Turning Point” (related story, page 35). Each hour will have one producer and one correspondent studying a single subject , with Peter Jennings and Barbara Walters taking turns with Sawyer.

Opening salvo looks at and listens to two of the Manson women involved in the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders. The program, with gruesome details delineated in part by interviewer Diane Sawyer while cameras prowl over the crime sites, should grab ratings; that’s why tabloid racks empty so quickly.

The murders of pregnant actress Sharon Tate, wife of director Roman Polanski, who was in Europe at the time, and four others at the Tate-Polanski home hit the news hard. Celebrities were involved.

According to ABC News, “Something changed forever in the heart of America with these headlines — with these pictures — with these faces of grief.” Hence , even if it’s a stretch, the Turning Point. The real turning point, of course, was after the murders of the LaBiancas the next night: The community realized that everyone was vulnerable.

Sawyer’s interviews with Leslie Van Houton and Patricia Krenwinkel reveal little other than that they are sorry for what they did. Horror film addicts will relish Krenwinkel’s recitation of stalking and murdering Abigail Folger. It’s a coup for Sawyer to have the killer describe the slaughter of the coffee heiress right on the first “Turning Point” episode.

Manson himself describes the setups for the murders of the LaBiancas the night after the five Tate killings. Sawyer quizzes him about the deaths on both nights but doesn’t get anywhere. “I didn’t know, I didn’t not know,” he replies. Another scoop.

Roone Arledge, ABC News prez, describes “Turning Point” as a combo of “dramatic storytelling and in-depth reporting with an hour devoted to telling the story in detail.” The program often refers to killer Tex Watson yet never tells what happened to him. Linda Kasabian, who told the D.A. all in exchange for immunity, remains in limbo, as far as “Turning Point” is concerned.

Patti Tate, Sharon’s sister, tells about watchdogging the parole system, but there’s no mention of Sharon Tate’s mother’s constant attendance at Manson parole hearings till her own death. Roman Polanski appears briefly.

ABC News’ first “Turning Point,” a chilling look at gory murders from a quarter-century ago, is not ABC News’s finest news hour; it’s not even news.

Turning Point the Manson Women: Inside the Murders

(Wed. (9), 10-11 p.m., ABC)

Production: Taped by ABC News. Exec producer, Phyllis McGrady; senior broadcast producer, Betsy West; senior producers, Rudy Bednar, Janice Tomlin; broadcast producer, Bret Marcus; producer, Jean Marie Condon; director, Roger Goodman; writer, Ed Fields; art director, Liz Keating.

Crew: Music, Michael Bacon; theme, Bill Conti.

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