CNN, WTBS PLAN NUCLEAR BLITZ THIS MONTH : Ted Turner’s Atlanta Superstation to Air English Film ‘Threads,’ While Cable News Network Offers Documentary in 13 Hours of Programming on Issue

Times Staff Writer

This may be a bummer subject for New Year’s Day, but think of it this way. . . . Nuclear war can ruin an otherwise perfectly good year.

On Jan. 13, Ted Turner’s WTBS Atlanta superstation will present the American premiere of “Threads,” the United Kingdom’s gritty, ugly, deeply unsettling answer to 1983’s “The Day After” on ABC. Also during the month, WTBS and Turner’s Cable News Network will show a British-made documentary on the ecological impact of nuclear war, with a round-table discussion. In all, Turner will be devoting nearly 13 hours of television time this month to the nuclear war issue.

Anti-nuclear groups are rallying around the Turner project in efforts to increase the programs’ viewership and to rekindle the nuclear debate that flared in the weeks surrounding “The Day After.”

“Threads” is a TV movie that shows, far more vividly than ABC’s effort, the utter futility of nuclear arms--3,000 megatons worth plunging the world and the few people left on it into a social, political and technological Stone Age.


The two-hour movie was shot last year in the northern England city of Sheffield (which receives only a portion of the 210 megatons allotted to the United Kingdom in the depicted worldwide nuclear holocaust). It is a joint production of Western World Television, the British Broadcasting Corp. and Australia’s Network Nine.

When he signed the deal to carry the movie, Turner said: “In today’s world, no one is immune from the threat of nuclear destruction. It affects us all. By airing programs like ‘Threads,’ it’s our intention to increase the public’s consciousness about the potential dangers of nuclear proliferation.”

Like “The Day After,” the story of “Threads” is a personal one, centering on the devastation to two Sheffield families--the working-class Kemps and the middle-class Becketts. They are watched from a month before Sheffield is devastated and followed for 13 years. Unlike ABC’s overly sentimental portrayal, however, “Threads” is much more docudrama than movie. It is laced with facts about the impact of nuclear war, including some that were not known when ABC was preparing its movie.

On Feb. 1, CNN plans to ask the United States Supreme Court to hear its petition to end a longstanding ban on live broadcast coverage of federal court trials. Four votes by the court’s members are needed for the court to accept the case.


The petition is an appeal of lower-court rulings that denied CNN’s request last fall to televise the federal court trial of Gen. William C. Westmoreland’s $120-million libel suit against CBS. The trial, recessed for the holidays, resumes Thursday in New York.

Although the Westmoreland-CBS trial doubtless will be over long before the Supreme Court decides whether to hear CNN’s appeal, “the matter will not be moot,” says Robert Ross, chief attorney for the Atlanta-based cable-TV company.

He says CNN still will seek a ruling that declares unconstitutional an existing “flat ban” against broadcast coverage of federal court trials. He emphasized that a favorable ruling wouldn’t lead to “a blanket opening of all (federal) trials” for broadcasters.

VIDEO BRIEFLY: On Jan. 13, Home Box Office will present one of its most ambitious made-for-pay-TV movies to date--"Gulag,” starring David Keith and Malcolm McDowell. They play prisoners in a Soviet prison camp in Siberia. The movie was shot in England and Norway.