CBS’ shot-on-videotape telefilm “Without Warning” masquerades as live news bulletins that portend global annihilation. The production, employing the cachet of regular newscasters playing themselves (among them Sander Vanocur, Bree Walker-Lampley, Sandy Hill and Warren Olney), is technically sharp as it pokes fun at the tabloids, but never quite jells as entertainment.
A pseudo-vidpic, starring Loni Anderson and Ed Marinaro, is suddenly replaced by fastbreaking “reality”: In the wake of numbing graphics of an asteroid falling on desolate parts of the U.S., China and France, there are ever-widening signals of an alien invasion. “Warning” adds a workable plot point: The U.S. military invites disaster by using nuclear weapons against a peaceful alien mission, which turns ugly and retaliatory. The havoc in the show’s final minutes , complete with anchors breaking down on camera, may be overwrought, but the doomsday atmosphere is palpable.
Vanocur and his co-anchor (marvelously played by actress Jane Kaczmarek) are so busy cutting from one frantic, international correspondent to another, and from NASA PR types to sci-fi celebrities (Arthur C. Clarke), gung-ho joint chiefs and even President Clinton (in stock footage), that the effect is exhausting.
Peter Lance and Jeremy Thorn’s teleplay, under Robert Iscove’s direction, means to emphasize the helter-skelter nature of the newsroom in a crisis, but this pic is all soundbite and wrenching crowd scenes, without the stamp of individual characters.
Show was broadcast on the anniversary of the real panic that accompanied Orson Welles’ 1938 Mercury Theater production, “War of the Worlds.”
Just in case there are believers out there, “Without Warning” is frequently interrupted by a silent crawl across the bottom of the screen reminding viewers: “This is a fictional broadcast. None of what you are seeing is actually happening.”
On Sunday night, minutes after the vidpic ended, KCBS newswoman Penny Griego stated on the 11 p.m. news, “Dozens of calls came into the Channel 2 newsroom.” Only dozens? Not that anyone expected a mediasavvy audience to actually fall for the premise of a Sunday network movie being interrupted by strange happenings from outer space. But, boy, that aborted movie with Anderson and Marinaro in the sack sure looked like a real TV movie.