Crash Movie Finally Out of Holding Pattern
— April 3, 2002
Written By: John Crook
The first thing Jeffrey D. Sams wants you to know about “NTSB: The Crash of Flight 323” is that it isn’t your typical disaster movie calculated to make you terrified to fly.
“Let me put it this way,” he said. “I hate flying. Hate it. And this film actually reassured me about not just how safe it is generally but also how many people are working so hard to make air travel even safer.”
The fictional ABC movie, which premieres Thursday at 8 p.m. on Ch. 7, features Sams as a National Transportation Safety Board investigator looking into the mysterious crash of a jetliner in the Colorado mountains. The project had three strong selling points for Sams.
“First, Mandy Patinkin was in it, and I always want to work with people who inspire me, as he does. Second, I was fascinated by the way [writer and executive producer Bill Cain] was telling the story, with the fragmented flashbacks that kind of faded into and out of one another.
“Finally, though, I’m always, always interested in portraying characters who are rescue and safety workers, how they work, their unselfishness and their determination to help other people. I just love that kind of part.”
ABC’s original intention – when “NTSB” was filmed in mid-2001 – was to turn the TV movie into a series. Along with Sams and Patinkin, Eric Close (“Without a Trace”) and Kevin Dunn (“Bette”) were on board as other members of the team.
“The original notion was that we would investigate a plane crash one week, maybe a train accident the next,” Sams explained. “I was really excited about it, and the first bad news we got was that we would not be picked up as a series.”
That bad news paled in comparison with the events of Sept. 11, 2001, after which any feature film or TV movie involving an air tragedy automatically was put on indefinite hold. (ABC provided a cut of the original film that proved a surreal viewing experience: At one point, a character refers to “the World Trade Center” incident, but he’s referring to the Feb. 26, 1993, bombing of the towers, not the 2001 attacks. A network publicist speculated that the line would be cut or amended before airing).
“They screened the movie for some of us not long after 9/11, and we knew and understood immediately that it would not be airing for a while, at least,” Sams said. “I was very proud of it, but frankly, I just sort of forgot about it as I worked on other projects after that.”
Ironically, the delay may wind up working to the advantage of “NTSB,” since the public interest in so-called “procedural dramas” has gone through the roof with the stratospheric success of CBS, “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” as well as several popular forensics documentary series on Court TV, Discovery Channel and other cable outlets.
It’s worth noting that Close’s current network series “Without a Trace” deals with an FBI unit handling missing persons investigations, while Sams, in addition to playing a recurring character on “CSI,” recently filmed another FBI-themed pilot for ABC.
Sams said he takes the extended postponement of “NTSB” in stride. After all, this is an actor who was part of the ensemble of “Breaking News,” the superb TV news series that was ordered, produced and then axed, unseen and unaired by TNT. The episodes produced eventually aired, to considerable critical acclaim, on Bravo.
“My wife keeps assuring me to be patient,” said Sams, who previously saw another critical smash, ABC’s romantic fantasy “Cupid,” bite the dust prematurely.
“If you saw a list of how many unsuccessful pilots I’ve made, you might be tempted to ask if I am really in the right line of work,” he said with a laugh. “But the important thing is to keep myself in the mix, and I keep working. And I can honestly say I am proud of the work I am doing.”
© Newsday 2003