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Secret 9/11 Miniseries Planned

Sept. 11 'History' | Seriously Hip Sirius | Hollywood Dining

Sept. 11 'History' Soap Opera: Secret Miniseries Planned

Here it comes, the miniseries no one wanted to see.

Nevertheless, ABC seems to be readying a major and secret "fictionalized" multi-parter about the history of terrorism, from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing to the disasters of Sept. 11, 2001.

From the looks of it, the story is going to be about how stupid the government was: If only they'd listened to one man, all would have been right!

The title offered on call sheets for actors is "The Untitled ABC History Project."

Last week, the call went out for dozens of Arab actors. Today, ABC showed a little more of its effort by putting out requests for 16 characters.

The main one? Former FBI agent John O'Neill, who seems to be the lead figure in this 'history.'

O'Neill left the FBI in 2001 when he claimed his superiors wouldn't listen to his warnings about Al Qaeda, and became the head of security at the World Trade Center. He was the subject of a PBS Frontline special called "The Man Who Knew."

The miniseries seems to be based on the PBS show, which is outlined in painstaking and unintentionally humorous detail on the PBS Web site.

In the TV version, O'Neill is described as "Early 40s to early 50s, a New Jersey native, a tall, burly, no-nonsense man with a taste for the high life, he's an FBI Special Agent, smart, determined, and tenacious in pursuing the big picture.

"O'Neill is known for his sharp elbows and Irish temper. He is on the trail of Usama Bin Laden from the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. Hungry to make busts in the pursuit of those responsible for taking American lives, O'Neill becomes a bitter opponent of Al Qaeda along the way, and is loudly and impatiently angry with the State Department honchos who balk his investigations..."

Think Brian Dennehy.

Historians should have a field day with this version of the decade-long terrorist plot. But why not? Screenwriter Cyrus Nowrasteh got his start on another soap opera, "Falcon Crest." He also wrote the upcoming miniseries "Into the West" and was cited for "The Day Reagan Was Shot." Marc Platt is the producer, and David L. Cunningham — who helmed the recent miniseries revival of "Little House on the Prairie" and several B-movies — will direct.

The remaining 15 characters needed to make this story of the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history include former local New York TV reporter John Miller, who interviewed Usama in 1998; Richard Clarke ("soon finds himself at odds with high-ranking members of the Administration, even as he chairs meetings devoted to the extermination of Al Qaeda..."); Sandy Berger, national security adviser to President Clinton; a number of FBI agents such as Neil Herman and Bill Miller; some of the actual plotters, such as Mohamed Atta; as well as former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine.

And there will be more to come, as the miniseries casts for just about everyone involved in national security and the plotting of the Sept. 11 tragedies. Who will play bin Laden? Or Saddam Hussein? Agents, consult your clients: History is going Hollywood.

Seriously Hip Sirius

The battle for subscribers between Sirius Satellite Radio and XM continues apace.

XM says it has more listeners, thanks to putting its radios in more new cars. But Sirius continues to break ground with exciting programming and celebrity entertainers.

Over the weekend, Sirius trumped XM again in the hip department. It staged a pair of radio plays that will air sometime in June at the very trendy St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn. A dozen big names performed in the two plays, the first of which was written by the Joel and Ethan Coen, the second by Charlie Kaufman.

The brilliant movie composer Carter Burwell, who's written music for all of the Coen brothers' movies and for the Kaufman-penned "Adapation" and "Being John Malkovich," conducted an eight-piece ensemble called Parabola.

Oh yes, the actors: Marcia Gay Harden, Brooke Smith, Steve Buscemi, John Slattery and John Goodman in the Coen brothers' "Sawbones"; Meryl Streep, Hope Davis and Peter Dinklage in "Hope Leaves the Theater."

Could there be anything cooler?

These radio plays are grouped under the reading "Theatre for the New Ear." The Coen brothers' "Sawbones" — a short, intricate sketch — is the opener. With Burwell's witty faux TV theme, they pulled off a funny satire about dysfunctional people watching their favorite show.

Twice as long and a little more developed, Kaufman's piece is just phenomenal, albeit a "meta" story within a story within a story.

For the first time he gives clues that he's actually paying attention to the real world, and not just living in his head — which isn't a bad thing, but not always accessible.

In Kaufman's piece, for example, the actors deconstruct themselves, their characters and their own real-world celebrity. It's never cloying and in fact, quite amusing.

Each of the three actors plays at least a dozen characters, including themselves or themselves as imagined by Kaufman.

Streep, for example, comes off as saucy and tough.

"That's how Charlie thinks of me — and that's scary," she said.

She also said she's told him to write a full-length play, and she's right.

It will be interesting to just listen to "Hope" rather than watch it. I tried to close my eyes for a few minutes and do just that.

Davis' character is more or less the central protagonist, and you follow her as Streep and Dinklage's many incarnations interact with her. Streep gets to do her famous accents and is also razzed about them, which makes for a lot of fun.

Kaufman also takes himself apart, with stabs at his lesser works, such as "Human Nature," a movie few people saw. All the while, Kaufman makes reference to current news stories.

He told me after the show it took him three months to write "Hope," but also that he was working on revisions right until the last minute. The live show will probably get similar outings in London and Los Angeles.

Hollywood Dining

Dan Tana's is the Elaine's of West Hollywood, with chicken and veal offerings named for friends of the eatery like Sidney Beckerman and Karl Malden.

If you need an imprimatur, well, Saturday night brought Variety gossip legend Army Archerd and his wife Selma, as well as Jim Belushi and a rare appearance by cool "Mod Squad" star Clarence Williams III.