Clancy tale comes to small screen because he likes TV's flexibility

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Tom Clancy is a modern King Midas. Everything he touches turns to gold.

His political thrillers are instant best sellers. The movie versions of "The Hunt for Red October," "Patriot Games" and "Clear and Present Danger" have struck the box-office mother lode, raking in a combined domestic gross of $300 million.

And now the former insurance salesman has set his sights on television. He's making his first foray into the medium with "Tom Clancy's 'Op Center,' " a two-part special, 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday and Monday on NBC (Channel 11).

Mr. Clancy is co-creator and executive producer of the four-hour political thriller that stars Harry Hamlin, Lindsay Frost, Kim Cattrall, Carl Weathers, Bo Hopkins, John Savage, Wilford Brimley and Rod Steiger. Former NBC chief Brandon Tartikoff, novelist Steve Sohmer ("Favorite Son") and novelist Steve Pieczenik ("Pax Pacifica") also are executive producers. Lewis Teague ("The Jewel of the Nile") directs.

"TV gives you more flexibility," Mr. Clancy says in explaining why he brought "Op Center" to the small screen. "It's a more efficient medium in terms of the time involved in producing. The interesting thing that TV offers you is that if something happens today in the front page of the L.A. Times, six weeks from now we can have a television show out about it. I can't write a novel that fast and Hollywood can't shoot a feature that fast. I like that kind of flexibility."

Adds co-creator Pieczenik: "When we came to NBC, they immediately saw the relevancy of ["Op Center"] and the fact that not only in entertainment is it cutting edge, but also in informing the public about what is going on [in the world] in a totally different perspective."

Mr. Hamlin's Paul Hood, a pacifist and self-made businessman, is appointed director of the National Crisis Management Center, where a team of intelligence officers, FBI agents, State Department officials, psychologists and military officers keep vigil on international hot spots. Hood has been brought in to downsize the agency, but renegade KGB guards in the Ukraine steal three nuclear warheads on the day of his appointment. The management center swiftly swings into action under the code name "Op Center."

There are plenty of crises on the personal front. Hood is having problems at home with his society-minded wife (Ms. Cattrall), who is having an affair under his nose. The president (Ken Howard) is carrying on an illicit affair with an ambitious reporter (Deidre Hall), who actually is a spy for another government. The center's political and economics officer (Mariangela Pino), the battered wife of a brutish college professor, finds herself attracted to a U.S. military officer/professional assassin (Victor Love).

"Op Center" came about while Mr. Clancy and Mr. Pieczenik were waiting for a meeting in Mr. Clancy's office. "I casually remarked that I tried to do a TV series and Steve also said he had tried to do a TV series idea, and we sort of compared the two and realized each had an element the other lacked," he says. "We put them together. 'Op Center' was actually Steve's name."

Mr. Sohmer, married to Ms. Hall, wrote the screenplay.

"What I think is unusual about this picture is that within what I hope will be a rip-snorting techno-oater are these really human stories about a couple of marriages that have gone stale," Mr. Sohmer says.

Mr. Hamlin feels a real kinship with Hood. Like his character, he also protested the Vietnam War. "I think the interesting thing about ["Op Center"] is the irony of this man who spent his life fighting against aggression, and suddenly he finds himself not the aggressor but the head of the agency which is in an aggressive defense situation," Mr. Hamlin says, during a break in filming at Hollywood's Ren-Mar Studios.

Hood also has to overcome the resistance of the other members at the center. "A lot of the conflict in the center revolves around that," Mr. Hamlin says. "There's some resistance to having a new guy in there to begin with and then having someone who is not from the military establishment or government. I pose a threat to their livelihood. During the course of the story I have to prove myself."

Mr. Pieczenik, a Harvard-trained psychiatrist who has a doctorate in international relations, is an international crisis manager-hostage negotiator and national security expert. "Harry Hamlin plays my role as the crisis manager," he says. "Lindsay Frost plays my role as a psychiatrist."

Currently, the U.S. government doesn't have a crisis-management center like the one depicted on TV. "There ought to be one, but there isn't one on a permanent institutional basis," Mr. Clancy says.

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