Disaster Movie ‘Without Warning’ Realistic Enough to Confuse Some Viewers
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A CBS movie about an asteroid striking Earth triggered hundreds of phone calls nationwide Sunday night from confused viewers concerned the depicted events might be true.
In the disaster movie ″Without Warning,″ the fictional ″Evening World News″ reports asteroids hitting in Wyoming, France and China, supposedly bringing information to viewers as it’s occurring.
The news ″reports″ had a realistic ring, since the word ″live″ appeared on the screen and the actors were often experienced local and national TV reporters, anchored by Sander Vanocur, an ABC newsman for 16 years.
Hundreds of calls poured into television stations in Wyoming, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Tennessee, Louisiana and Los Vegas. Calls also were made to news organizations and authorities in New York, Atlanta and Chicago.
WCCO-TV, the CBS affiliate in Minneapolis, apologized during its evening news to viewers fooled by the movie, which immediately preceded the newscast.
″CBS broadcast disclaimers at every commercial break, but in spite of that we got almost a hundred calls from people alarmed, upset, some in tears,″ said anchorwoman Amy Marsalis. ″We called CBS network. They said they had very few calls from alarmed viewers across the nation, but for those of you who called here, we’re sorry for any bad moments.″
An advisory reassured audiences that ″Without Warning″ is a ″realistic depiction of fictional events. None of what you are seeing is actually happening.″
However, after the opening warning, the first 15 minutes of the movie which established its format and mood, ran without the advisory.
A disclaimer opened and closed Orson Welles’ legendary 1938 radio broadcast ″War of the Worlds,″ but none was included during the program. The realistic drama about an alien invasion of Earth induced panic among some listeners.
In Cheyenne, Wyo., which suffers a direct hit from the meteorite in the movie, the police department received a single call from a confused viewer. But the phone company U.S. West told police of a high influx of calls into the area.
″I’ve been busy answering calls all night, telling people it’s just a movie,″ said Jill Cumer, producer for the CBS affiliate KGWN in Wyoming.
″A lot of people from the East Coast, which saw the movie first, were calling their families near Cheyenne to make sure everything was OK,″ she said. ″Nobody from here called. I’d say the East Coast people are more gullible.″
In Los Angeles, KCBS affiliate was ″flooded″ with calls, said Sybil MacDonald, the station’s spokeswoman. ″A rival channel called because they were receiving complaints they weren’t on the scene reporting about the meteor,″ she said.
Veteran reporter Vanocur said he had no qualms about lending his journalistic credibility to the drama.
″If you can explain to me what that O.J. Simpson highway ride was all about, please do,″ he said. ″I have no definition for that night ... Was it news? Was it drama? Was it entertainment?″