BY: David Bauder
NEW YORK – The Chilean mine rescue was an “uplifting and exciting” story in contrast to accounts of tragedy and woe that dominate the news, a top television executive said Thursday, explaining a rush to tell the tale in many formats.
Already, there’s a book deal about the rescue, a reality show about mining and a Discovery Channel special on the saga. Wednesday’s quickie ABC News special on the rescue of the 33 miners, who were trapped underground for 69 days, drew the biggest audience the network has gotten in the time slot in 10 months.
“I can imagine agents and other folks are already swirling around this, looking to get those stories locked up,” said Clark Bunting, president and general manager of Discovery. That network’s Latin American affiliate is making ‘Rescued: The Chilean Mine Story‘ and an Oct. 28 air date is already scheduled.
He called it uplifting how the miners created their own society underground and ran it smoothly.
The Spike TV network said it has ordered a 10-episode series, ‘Coal,’ set to premiere next spring. ‘Coal’ is based in a West Virginia town and explores mining through the eyes of the mine owners and miners. Thom Beers, the producer behind ‘Deadliest Catch’ and ‘Ice Road Truckers,’ is making the new series.
Transworld Publishers announced that it would publish “The 33,” by journalist Jonathan Franklin, who has lived in Chile for 16 years and covered the rescue story. A U.S. publisher is still being sought.
Writer-producer Lionel Chetwynd, an Oscar nominee for the screenplay “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz” and maker of the TV films “Kissinger and Nixon” and “Ike: Countdown to D-Day,” said he expects projects are already being pitched around Hollywood.
“Television is a quick-response medium,” Chetwynd said. “In fact, I think I’ll call my agent when we get off the phone.”
With the movie of the week business essentially evaporating, reality show producers might be better suited to the story, Chetwynd said. It would keep the story fresh; the Hallmark Channel said its representatives found the story interesting, but the cable network is already locked in to movies that it is producing through the end of 2011.
Veteran television writer Jeffrey Stepakoff said if someone approached him to do the story, “I would think about it for a few seconds and say `yeah.'”
The miners alone weren’t enough for the story, he said. Stepakoff, a drama instructor at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, said he’d also focus on their families aboveground and the technological race to extract them.
“I would want to re-create the tension that I felt when I first heard about the story,” he said.
Measurements of TV and online traffic showed the pull of the story. At the time the first miner was pulled to the surface on Tuesday night, the viewing audience for CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC was 10.6 million people — more than quadruple the audience these networks usually get collectively at that hour, the Nielsen Co. said.
Facebook, the world’s largest online social hub, saw a peak in the number of people discussing the story at the time of the first miner’s emergence. The site’s internal statistics show that U.S. users posted about the rescue at a maximum of 1,265 times per minute in the U.S. and 478 times per minute in Chile.
Twitter users were also excited about it.
“Bigtears wellup in my eyes everytime one of the miners gets to hug his family!” wrote singer and actress Hilary Duff.
“Miracles do happen,” singer Justin Bieber said.
Actor Michael Caine called it “the happiest moment I’ve ever seen on TV.”
Miners themselves could expect to cash in on their stories, even from journalists: Although television networks in the United States have restrictions against paying for interviews, they frequently bypass them by paying for travel or the rights to family pictures.
“Right now it’s a real scramble on the ground down there with literally thousands of media all looking for interviews,” said Jim Bell, executive producer of NBC’s “Today” show.
The biggest interview target is undoubtedly miner Yonni Barrios, whose mistress showed up to greet him when he came up from the mine while his wife stayed home.
Both the New York Daily News and Post gave Barrios their front pages on Thursday. “He’s All Mine,” the Post wrote.
The story even inspired musicians. The rock band the Pixies performed in Santiago, Chile, on Wednesday and played 33 songs — one for each miner. It was the largest set list the band ever played, singer Black Francis said.
“We found out five minutes before we went on stage that all of the miners had safely reached the surface,” he said. “This was definitely one of the most meaningful shows we’ve ever played.”
Online conversation in Hollywood quickly turned to how the story might play out on-screen. The website Movieline.com suggested five directors who might tackle the tale.
“I hope someone has the guts to make the ‘Real Chilean Miners of Orange County,'” joked comic Eugene Mirman.
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