GOOD MORNING from Washington, where the White House launched a liftoff for HBO’s “From the Earth to the Moon” Thursday evening. The President and First Lady hosted a reception followed by a screening of one hour-long portion of the Imagine-HBO 12-part miniseries, which debuts April 5. It was also part of the White House’s “Millennium Heroes” series. Hillary Clinton welcomed the filmmakers and invited guests to participate in the unique (and super) sendoff for a TV project. Earlier in the day, Tom Hanks addressed a group at the National Press Club. Hanks is the executive producer of the series, directed the first show, and wrote and acted in other segs as well. It is to Hanks’ credit that the $65 million project was made, admit producers Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and HBO CEO-chairman Jeff Bewkes, as well as original programming head Chris Albrecht, all of whom attended the event. Time Warner Chairman Gerald Levin was also present at the White House. “Tom is becoming a great producer,” Grazer said. “He’s now sending jackets to people who worked on the project, like all producers do.” The jackets say “God Speed.” The Clintons are no strangers to Hanks. He was at the White House for the early screening of “Apollo 13″ on request from the President. The filmmakers of that pic were very nervous, having only had some early screenings. The 1995 film, which cost $60 million, went on to earn $350 million worldwide. And Hanks m.c.’d (very capably) a giant fundraiser for the President’s second campaign at GreenAcres in Hollywood … At the White House, John F. Kennedy Jr told the crowd he was standing only a few yards away from where President Kennedy made the decision to send a man to the moon. “The space program is my father’s proudest legacy.” President Clinton, following the screening of the segment of earth to the moon, received prolonged applause from the guests in the East Room of the White House. The president revealed that wife Hillary, when a young girl, had written to NASA to ask how to become an astronaut. The President said he wants to continue the legacy of President Kennedy and the space program.

SHOWBIZ AND THE SPACE PROGRAM teamed for a full day Thursday, launching with a National Press Club screening of a compilation of the 12 segs plus the entire “1968” show. That seg was directed by David Frankel and written by Al Reinert (who co-wrote “Apollo 13″ and was a producer on the Oscar-nominated space docu “For All Mankind”), with Hanks’ wife Rita Wilson playing Susan Borman to David Andrews as astronaut Frank Borman. The scribes heartily applauded as Hanks and Dave Scott, Apollo astronaut and technical consultant to the series, answered questions. Bewkes, who made their intros, told me he has no idea how HBO will recupe this investment but added, “We also don’t know about a billion-$ commitments from other feature involve-ments — but we hope they will encourage people to watch HBO.” Hanks revealed he’d wanted to do a 13th “Moon” seg, on the Russian space program, “but it fell between the cracks. But it’s certainly not dead,” he added. Meanwhile, Hanks admitted it was impossible to get the entire Apollo program in 12 hours — or 120 … The 14 astronauts on hand agreed that the HBO’er’s dialog is accurate; it’s taken from actual transcripts. Hanks said Rita wanted to be accurate in her portrayal, so spoke with Susan Borman as well. But the ultimate compliment came from Scott, who suggested that “NASA pay half HBO’s bill!” … Hanks, Hillary Clinton and Eileen Collins, first woman commander of a Shuttle mission, spoke to youngsters at Dunbar High School Thursday afternoon. Hanks said he hopes the mini will be “inspirational (to youngsters) to become engineers and scientists, instead of rock stars and video directors.” A sign of the continuing strength of the astronauts on hand: Buzz Aldrin, who last year swam with sharks in the South Pacific, told me he next boards a Russian nuclear ice-cutter out of Murmansk to the North Pole. And astronaut Pete (Charles) Conrad and wife Nancy (he’s working on a commuter service to space) are off to Panama on a “survival” trek. John Glenn, you’ve got good company.

HANKS’ INTEREST IN THE PROJECT goes back long before “Apollo 13.” When he had started to work for the first time with Ron Howard and Brian Grazer on “Splash” in 1984, he would always tell them about his interest in astronomy. As the years went by and “Apollo 13″ was made, his love for the subject of the men and the moon led him to today’s accomplishments. “The miniseries is his idea,” Grazer emphasizes … The 12-seg mini boasts over 100 major roles — played by actors as well as by some members of the space program. In addition to former astronaut Scott (Gemini 8 and Apollo 9, and commanded Apollo 15 and who walked on the moon) other technical consultants for the series were provided by NASA and Kennedy Space Center. Michael Bostick, one of the producers, is the son of NASA veteran Jerry Bostick. The mini is based in part on Andrew Chaikin’s book, “A Man on the Moon.” Among the directors of the segs are two women, Lilli Fini Zanuck and Sally Field. Lilli “auditioned” for her seg, said Grazer al-though she had shown interest in space from the time she first visited their “Apollo 13″ set at Universal. “We didn’t want anyone involved in this,” said Grazer, “unless they were as passionate as we are.” As a result of Zanuck’s direction of Part 3, “We Have Cleared the Tower” (it airs April 12), Imagine set her to direct the $50 million bigscreen feature, “Into Thin Air,” a thriller to start Sylvester Stallone. Field was hired because they thought she has “experience with all personalities to balance in an ensemble cast.” Field directs “The Original Wives Club” seg airing May 10.

HANKS SAID HE GETS the same inspiration viewing man going to the moon “as I got from viewing the Sistine Chapel for the first time.” In the series, he wanted to also point out the humanity of the men in the Apollo program: “They swore, and they had kids that they wanted to get away from every now and again, and they liked to go bowling, and some didn’t like broccoli.” Hanks says that the film(s) will hopefully have people saying, “I didn’t know that.” “We were always searching for the real things that happened and trying to figure out ways that we could dramatize them.” Hanks admitted that HBO was chosen because there would be no commercials shown during the airing. He also admitted to the worry that, on a network, “you could come in third in the overnights and 12 million people would have seen your show and still it would be Black Tuesday at the network and people would be losing their jobs in droves.” What was the most difficult thing to do? “To re-create men actually walking on the moon,” Hanks said. And the best thing about the space program? “The resultant world peace and that we never went to a World War III global conflict.”

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