‘War Stories’ is a very timely pilot

Times Staff Writer

In love, war and especially TV shows, timing is everything, and with the drumbeat for a U.S.-Iraq confrontation growing louder by the day, NBC is johnny-on-the-spot with tonight’s lively two-hour series pilot “War Stories” (8 p.m.).

Jeff Goldblum stars as Ben Dansmore, a veteran war correspondent for a Baltimore newspaper assigned to cover a civil war in the Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan. The U.S.-backed Uzbek forces are pitted against Al Qaeda-supported Islamic rebels, but the most interesting battles are between Dansmore and his media rivals.

There’s news magazine reporter Gayle Phelan (Louise Lombard), a blond bombshell who hunts down stories and lovers with equal gusto. There’s Ian Rhys (Jeffrey Nordling), a strutting peacock of a cable newsman who never met a mirror he didn’t like. And then there’s Abdurain Tamarov (Noam Jenkins), a maverick spy of negotiable virtue.


But Dansmore saves his most vitriolic exchanges for a colleague from his own newspaper, a green, idealistic photographer named Nora Stone (Lake Bell). When Stone tells him that her goal is to capture the true essence of the conflict on film, Dansmore responds with world-weary disdain. “Don’t kid yourself, there’s no such thing as truth,” he tells her. “That’s why we call them stories.”

“War Stories,” with joltingly effective combat action balanced nicely by the interpersonal skirmishes and sexual entanglements, is still a pilot in search of a commitment from NBC.

A decent showing on the ratings battlefield tonight could help it survive to fight another day.