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ACHIEVING REALISM ON ABC : ‘RAYMOND GRAHAM’: LIVE DRAMA FROM DEATH ROW

Times Staff Writer

There is a scene in “The Execution of Raymond Graham,” a two-hour drama to be broadcast live on ABC Sunday at 9 p.m., in which the title character, a convicted murderer on death row, asks a guard what time it is.

In the script, the guard’s response is “9:31.”

“But if it’s 9:33 in real life he’ll say ‘9:33,’ ” noted David Rintels, the producer. “This show is done in real time. When it says 9 o’clock on ABC Sunday night, we will have our clock synchronized.”

The fictional execution by lethal injection is scheduled for 10:58 p.m., Eastern Standard Time. (Because of the time difference, the broadcast will be tape-delayed for prime-time viewing on the West Coast.)

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So much for the simplicity of live drama, which thrived in TV’s so-called Golden Age as the precursor to filmed and heavily post-produced series.

To get “The Execution of Raymond Graham” right, Rintels and Daniel Petrie, a film director who also directed TV’s “The Dollmaker” and “Eleanor and Franklin,” rehearsed with the entire cast for five weeks. This week, a full crew manning 12 cameras on three sound stages at Toronto’s CFTO-TV joined the daily rehearsals.

The net result is that producers of “The Execution of Raymond Graham” have traded off costly post-production for equally expensive rehearsal time to achieve a single special effect: realism.

Live seems particularly appropriate on a show about life and death,” Rintels said. “We all agreed it was the way to do it with the most realism and the most immediacy. Part of the same thinking is we are using a cast of unknown faces.”

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In addition, Petrie and star Jeff Fahey visited convicted murderer Charles Rumbaugh in a Huntsville, Tex., prison prior to his execution Sept. 11.

“Graham,” a completely fictitious work scripted by Mel Frohman, is set in an unnamed state. The Toronto sound stages, which Rintels said were selected for “a combination of facilities and economics,” will serve as a prison waiting room where Graham’s family awaits the execution; a motel room occupied by the family of Graham’s victim; a dinner party where the governor is sought to issue a last-minute reprieve, and the three rooms associated with the actual execution.

“It’s not a polemic kind of show,” Rintels said. “It’s a show in which we are attempting as well as we can to create the experience and show what everybody involved goes through.”

Rintels is an old hand at live drama, having produced this decade’s live NBC offerings “The Oldest Living Graduate,” “All the Way Home” and two other plays, all set on a stage before an audience.

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There is, he noted, one very big advantage to live TV: “When it becomes 11 o’clock, we’re finished . . . unless there’s a cast party.”


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