JOHNSON’S ‘HEARTBEAT’ VIDEO STIRS HBO PULSE
How’s this for an all-inclusive show-biz fantasy?
A major network TV star records an album that delivers a Top-40 radio hit. It inspires an hourlong film featurette to be sold on videocassette. The featurette gets big play on a pay-cable service, which promotes it to newspaper reporters via satellite-TV hookup . . . originating from a public television station.
Don Johnson, “Miami Vice’s” Sonny Crockett, seemingly had enough energy to power the whole satellite rig Wednesday as he spoke to the nation’s TV critics about his latest extracurricular project, “Don Johnson’s Music Video Feature ‘Heartbeat.’ ”
Debuting on Home Box Office Saturday at 10 p.m., the hourlong music video incorporates all the songs from Johnson’s CBS Records “Heartbeat” album. It loosely tells the tale of a documentary film maker (Johnson) who is near death after getting too close to a bomb in an unnamed Central American country.
He re-experiences his life, including one steamy sequence with actress Lori Singer, to the beat of “Heartbeat,” no dialogue necessary.
But Johnson, his spiked hair looking like a stand of oaks on the 12-foot screen at the Century Plaza Hotel, was hardly the laconic character we’ve come to expect from “Vice.” In contrast to his Sonny disposition, he bubbled with enthusiasm.
“I don’t think that it redefines film making or television or videos,” he said. “I think it’s another step in a relatively new medium.”
Music, TV, films and, now, extra-long videos--Johnson embraces them all “to funnel this creative energy I have.”
He was named the best new vocalist of 1986 in a Rolling Stone readers poll. Yet, as if sensing that he needed to apologize for a successful second career as a singer, he lamented that going from singing to acting was accepted as a “natural evolutionary course, but the other way around seems to be a big taboo.”
“I reject that. I’m going to keep making records as long as somebody will let me.”
The critics saw the product of that “natural evolutionary course” shortly after Johnson’s spiel ended. Tina Turner took center stage--live and in person--to talk about another HBO project, the musical special “Tina Turner Breaks Every Rule,” set for a March debut on HBO.
“My dream of being an actress goes back to when I was a kid,” Turner told the gathering. After her success in “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome,” Turner said she is actively seeking scripts with that kind of “energy,” she said.
Turner’s own energy paled in comparison to Johnson’s, but she did reveal, in response to questioning, how she effects her particular hair style. “You just sort of wash it and let it dry,” she said.
Turner’s special and, perhaps to a greater extent, Johnson’s are considered important programs for HBO at a time when cable subscribership is relatively stagnant and competition among pay channels fierce.
“One of the directions we’re going in is getting some of the top talent (to) enhance our programming,” said Judy Torello, HBO vice president for media relations. “Don Johnson coming to pay cable is a major event for HBO.”
The honchos at HBO heard Johnson’s “Heartbeat” album months before the public and were impressed. “Obviously, this guy was serious” about his music, said Bridget Potter, senior vice president for original programming.
Johnson’s manager, Danny Goldberg, had the idea for the hourlong feature, and got CBS Records to sink $2 million into the project. John Nicolella, former producer of “Miami Vice” and frequent director of the TV series, directed the “Heartbeat” special.
HBO has exclusivity on the work for at least two months, after which CBS can release its slightly longer version as a videocassette.
Johnson seemed genuinely grateful to reporters for their support. In closing remarks to the TV critics, now winding down a two-week marathon of screenings, interviews and feed bags served up by the major networks, PBS and HBO, Johnson said:
“I’m very proud to be a part of this business. I want to thank you folks for being so kind and preferential to ‘Miami Vice.’ ”
But one last question: What does he think of all the young men who emulate his look, walking around unshaven and wearing T-shirts under sport jackets?
“That part’s a little disconcerting,” he said. “And quite frankly a lot of them should shave.”