Oscar prospects for "The Silence of the Lambs" improved Sunday night as the suspenseful thriller about the hunting down of a serial killer, written by Ted Tally, picked up the Writers Guild of America award for best adapted screenplay of 1991.
In the best original screenplay category, first-time writer Callie Khouri's groundbreaking women's buddy move, "Thelma & Louise," a film that put women in traditional male roles, took the honors.
Among the television prizes, Tom Topor's "Judgment," which played on HBO, won in the original category. The film focused on a Catholic priest who is accused of child molestation, but is able to lose himself within the bureaucracy of the church.
Meanwhile, "Long Road Home," adapted by Jan-Howard Hammerstein from the novel by Ronald B. Taylor, took the adaptation prize. The NBC film was a gritty Depression-era saga about homeless migrants.
The 44th annual Writers Guild awards from the Western and Eastern branches were presented at dual ceremonies at the Beverly Hilton here and in New York City. The movie categories are often a prognosticator for the writing Oscars given by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, with some voters casting ballots in both contests. The Oscar ceremonies are one week from tonight; Tuesday is the last day to submit ballots.
By winning in the Writers Guild competition, the "Silence of the Lambs" gets another edge up in the very tight race for best picture Oscar, in which it competes with "Beauty and the Beast," "Bugsy," "JFK" and "The Prince of Tides."
The win for "Silence" comes on top of last week's Directors Guild of America prize for its director Jonathan Demme--a win that historically signals a film as the favorite to win the Oscar for best director and, more often than not, best picture.
In the Writers Guild competition, "Silence" beat out the adapted screenplays of two other best picture nominees, "JFK" and "The Prince of Tides," as well as "The Commitments" and "Fried Green Tomatoes."
The Oscar-related significance of the Writers Guild award for original screenplay, however, is not as clear, since the winner, "Thelma & Louise," is not an Oscar nominee for best picture.
But it does suggest that "Thelma & Louise" may have an edge in the original screenplay Oscar category, in which it is up against James Toback's widely praised script for the best picture-nominated "Bugsy," which has 10 Oscar nominations in all--the most of any film.
Besides "Bugsy," "Thelma" beat the original screenplays for "Boyz N the Hood," "The Fisher King," and "Grand Canyon" in the Writers Guild awards.
Other Writers Guild winners:
* Episodic drama: ABC's "Thirty-something," for the "Photo Opportunity" segment by Racella Rosett Schaefer.
* Episodic comedy: NBC's "Cheers" for the "Rat Girl" segment written by Ken Levine and David Isaacs.
* Variety musical: CBS' "The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson," by Jerry Juhl, Sara Lukinson and Bill Prady.
* Daytime serials: CBS' "The Guilding Light," by Nancy Curlee, Stephen Demorest, James E. Reilly, Nancy Williams, Michael Confortl, Bill Elverman, N. Gail Lawrence, Pete T. Rich, Melissa Salmons; NBC's "Santa Barbara," by Bridget Dobson, Jerry Dobson, Samuel D. Ratcliffe, Maralyn Thoma, Linda Hamner, Josh Griffith, Gary Tomlin, Courtney Simon, Bob Guza Jr., Richard Culliton, Lynda Myles, Michele Val Jean, Tina Bradbury, Chris Dunn, Mary Dobson-Collier, Frank Sallsbury, Patrick Mulcahey and Meg Bennett.
* Children's script: CBS' "But He Loves Me," by Betty G. Birney.
* Documentary, current events: PBS' "Power Without Purpose" (Part Four of "Power in the Pacific"), by Joseph Angler and Carl Byker.
* Documentary, other: PBS' "The American Experience: Nixon," by Geoffrey Ward, David Espar, Elizabeth Deane and Marilyn Mellowes.
* Spot news script: "CBS Evening News: Soviet Coup" and "Special Edition of 48 Hours: The Coup Collapse," both programs by Jerry Cipriano, Maureen Clark, Paul Fischer, Paul Enger and Hugh Heckman.
* Spot news: ABC Network Radio's "World News This Week," by Gil Longin; CBS News Radio's "Dan Rather Reporting--Kuwait Oil Fires," written by Thomas Phillips.
* Documentary: "Just Down the Road," by Evalyn Lee; "Remembering the Dream," by Carol Pauli, and "Love Stories," by Jill Landes, Evalyn Lee and Pam Rauscher; all CBS News Radio.
* Drama/comedy: ABC Radio's "Morning Show Prep," by Sarit Catz and Gloria Ketterer.
* On-air promotion: WNET/PBS' "WNET Promos" by Susan Meredith Lay.