Hollywood Confidential (1997): Off the Record and Very Hush-Hush.

Dave takes a look at a solid telepic and traces the career of its writer, Anthony Yerkovich: a talent whose stabs at small and big screen success didn’t always work out.

An alumnus of Georgetown University who did postgraduate work in film at San Francisco State, Anthony Yerkovich arrived in Los Angeles in the mid-‘70s with a bundle of scripts under his arm and the confidence that he’d sell them all for a six-figure fee. As with most Hollywood dreams, the budding screenwriter soon found himself working as a busboy, a bartender and a cabbie, but by 1977 he’d found a way into the offices of Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg. Hired as a staff writer on Starsky & Hutch, he rose to story editor by the time it went into syndication, and jobs on Fantasy Island, Hart to Hart, and an Emmy-winning run on Hill Street Blues soon followed.

After three years on the cop show, Yerkovich had his eye on penning features so made the leap over to Universal, lured by the promise of being able to make a movie. However, NBC, the studio’s small screen subsidiary, were looking for a new cop show, and one that had a fast and contemporary energy to it – “MTV TV” was how they put it. With Yerkovich having spent the past year in southern Florida working through some film ideas, he decided to put the two concepts together, and one of the most culturally impactful television shows was born: Miami Vice.

After walking away from Hill Street Blues after a disagreement with creator Steven Bochco in terms of tone, Yerkovich only stayed for six episodes of Vice. Ever one for projects new, and with features remaining elusive, the writer turned his attention to Private Eye  – a noir-themed detective show which only lasted for one season. Its last episode clearly planted a seed in Yerkovich’s brain, though.

Airing in January 1988 and titled Hollywood Confidential, Private Eye‘s final episode centres around an aspiring actress who gets papped in the clutches of a movie star. Horrified by the resulting inches in the gossip columns, the actress commits suicide – but there’s a nagging doubt about whether her death was engineered, not to mention the role that the star’s studio had in it all.

Yerkovich should have maybe gotten the hint when Private Eye was cancelled because his quest to set up a similar concept – albeit in a modern-day setting – was met with a similar fate. Produced by his own company with the intention of being taken to series by the United Paramount Network, the full, telepic version of HOLLYWOOD CONFIDENTIAL was shelved for twelve months before eventually airing in April 1997 as an orphaned pilot. “It’s very good,” noted UPN president Lucie Salhany. “But it would have been very tough to make as a series. It’s really a 10PM show.”

Tweaking Joseph Dougherty’s concluding Private Eye script, this iteration of Hollywood Confidential finds wannabe starlet Heather Norland (Sarah Lassez) mixed up with married big-shot director Lawrence Brent (Brent Huff). Keen to make any potential scandal go away, Brent’s backing studio enlists the strong-arm tactics of Barry Bliss (J. Downey) to ensure that the detective agency looking into the matter – an outfit led by ex-cop Stan Navarro (Edward James Olmos) – are able to convince Norland into accepting a payoff and disappearing. Thing is, not only is Norland pregnant with Brent’s love child, but she’s actually a seventeen year-old minor too, forcing Navarro to choose between preserving his career or saving an exploited young girl’s life.

I might be wrong, but I have a feeling that Hollywood Confidential spooked a few of the high-powered suits at Paramount due to the subject matter being a little close to home. With lines like “Ten grand a month, or it’s the Polanski suite at Folsom”, Yerkovich’s script pulls no punches. Discerning viewers will get a lot out of it, not least its film savvy dialogue which is delivered with such a wallop that it almost out-Sorkins Aaron Sorkin. The picture’s biggest shortcoming is that it was made too early. In the post #MeToo landscape, Hollywood Confidential‘s industry literate lingo would be the stuff of gushing op-eds.

As a pilot the film is fraught with the usual issues. Backstories are shoehorned in with the hope of being fleshed out in successive episodes, and we’re bombarded with an array of fascinating characters (including roles for a young Charlize Theron and Thomas Jane). Nevertheless, Hollywood Confidential is still recommendable as a standalone feature, and Yerkovich at least finally got to have his name on a movie – and be in a movie. The character of Jack Hanson is played Anthony Yerkovich, marking his first and last acting appearance. He’s good too – although I’m guessing Yerkovich himself wasn’t too impressed as he removed his performer credit, despite receiving enough screen time to warrant second billing.

USA ● 1997 ● Drama, TVM ● 90mins

Edward James Olmos, Anthony Yerkovich (uncredited), Rick Aiello, Angela Alvarado, Charlize Theron, Thomas Jane ● Dir. Reynaldo Villalobos ● Wri. Anthony Yerkovich

[1] Yerkovich Movie to Finally Air by Alan Pergament, The Buffalo News, 26th March 1997.

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