×

THE NEW TOM CLANCY movie, “The Sum of All Fears,” will surely bring back those nagging post-9/11 questions. Having been subjected to new terrorist alerts, will filmgoers want to expose themselves to massive doses of realism in movies and TV?

In “Sum,” a major U.S. city is nuked by terrorists. We are brought to the brink of war. There are terrifying scenes revealing the heavy body count.

Even at the premiere in Washington, D.C., last week, the nuke footage was greeted by a startled silence. Nonetheless, Paramount is betting many millions there is a major audience for all this, and it’s not alone. Other movies and TV shows will follow suit. Jerry Bruckheimer and CBS are even doing a weekly TV show from the front lines.

But does the audience really want to be on the front lines? I know one thing: I don’t want to bet against Jerry Bruckheimer.

I remember a couple of years ago coming upon him standing alone in the hallway of a Cannes hotel. He was looking downright forlorn. At the time he was trying to expand his portfolio into TV, and Disney had just cast off his favorite new show. It was too depressing, they said, and too expensive.

So now, somber but unbowed, he was flogging the show at the Mipcom market in association with Alliance Atlantis, the Canadian indie whose credentials in international TV were as tenuous as Bruckheimer’s.

It was clearly a lost cause.

BUT THE SHOW, “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” found some takers in Cannes that year and became a major hit. In fact, it will be cloned this fall into “CSI: Miami,” and its success has helped propel Bruckheimer into his new role as a major indie TV producer. He’ll have five shows on the air this fall — a formidable achievement at a time when TV independents are struggling to keep their heads above water. One of them is “Profiles from the Front Line.”

Producers are under siege these days in film as well as TV, and Jerry Bruckheimer has always struck me as an anomaly among producers. In a business of extroverted pitchmen, Bruckheimer is an introverted workaholic.

While fellow producers play in Malibu, Bruckheimer and his novelist wife, Linda, regularly repair to, of all places, Bloomfield, Ky., for R&R. I suspect they own the town, but that’s beside the point.

Though steadfastly avoiding the limelight, Bruckheimer nonetheless has found himself stereotyped in the press, which he deeply resents. Sure, his credits range from “Top Gun” to “Armageddon” to “Pearl Harbor,” but he insists he’s not just an action junkie.

“If I find a story compelling, I want to make it — any kind of story,” he insists.

Thus he’s just wrapped “Veronica Guerin” in Dublin, a serious drama about the crusading crime reporter who was assassinated in the line of duty. His “Blackhawk Down” last year won abundant plaudits. “Remember the Titans” two years ago also was a hit, yet contradicted the stereotype.

The press particularly hammered Bruckheimer when he disclosed his intention to shoot his weekly “Profiles from the Front Line.” Here was a Hollywood producer presuming to give us the news from Afghanistan and other trouble spots, they huffed. Besides which, Bruckheimer had a record of sucking up to the Pentagon. He was even a Republican.

Bruckheimer doesn’t understand all the static. Sure, he got Pentagon cooperation for “Top Gun,” but not for “Crimson Tide.” Besides, his new show does not represent itself as “breaking news.” Rather “it presents profiles of our fighting men,” he points out. That’s showbiz, not news biz, and he believes there’s an audience for it.

Though annoyed by all this heat, Bruckheimer simply goes about his work with his customary understated zeal.

IT WAS JUST 20 YEARS ago that the quiet one-time Detroit ad man formed a production company with hard-living, hard-driving Don Simpson at Paramount. Simpson, brilliant, if thoroughly erratic, made enough extravagant statements to the press to provide Bruckheimer with protective cover.

Their success from the outset was remarkable. “Flashdance” was a mega-hit that surprised even Paramount, which nonetheless tried to sell it off after seeing the first cut. Then came “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Top Gun” and “Days of Thunder.”

Simpson’s lifestyle caught up with him in 1996, but by that time Bruckheimer had already split off to form his own production entity and followed up with films like “The Rock,” “Con Air,” “Armageddon” and, of course, “Pearl Harbor.”

Bruckheimer became ensconced as the key film producer at Disney, the studio that shortly lived to regret its decision to banish his “CSI.” His proliferating TV activities are now focused at Warner Bros. and CBS.

With five shows on the air, Bruckheimer certainly has the last laugh on the naysayers.

But while the CSI franchise seems secure, he’s well aware that his messages from the “front lines” may not be as warmly received. The fate of that show may well reside more with the mood of the audience than with the content of the show. In that regard, he and Tom Clancy find themselves in the same boat.