Posted Wednesday, July 17, 2002

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A network that is touting, as two high-profile acquisitions, Young Hitler and young hotties on the annual Victoria's Secret lingerie show -- description of CBS


Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Swastikas for Sweeps



PASADENA, Calif. -- We've had Hitler the hippie grooving in the movie "The Producers." We've had Gay Hitler shimmying on "Saturday Night Live." We've had everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Alec Guinness to Anthony Hopkins goose-stepping across the screen as Adolf the Fruitcake.

Yet the monster will not die. Fifty-seven years after he swallowed a bullet instead of Europe, Hitler is still a hot property.

For sweeps next season, CBS will bring us Hitler in the demo: Young Hitler, the miniseries, covering the years between 18 and 34 -- the demographic sweet spot of network television. The Gathering Sturm. The Young and the Racist. From "Achtung, baby," to "Achtung, dude."

If there's one thing Hollywood executives understand, it's megalomania. And if there is one audience they crave more than any other, it's teenagers and young adults.

The WB network got a hit last season out of showing the dreamy teenage Superman in "Smallville." So why not show the teenage Hitler dreaming of his super race?

"Hollywood is playing the Nazi card," says the TV writer Eric Mink dryly.

And how. Besides what CBS calls "the Hitler project" -- cuddly Ewan McGregor's name has been bandied about as the leading Deutschman -- there are at least two other Portraits of the Führer as a Young Man in the works. There is talk about Robert Downey Jr. playing Hitler as a struggling painter in Vienna in a BBC drama. Then there's an independent feature film called "Max," focusing on the relationship between a Jewish art dealer (John Cusack) who was friendly with the aspiring artist and mass murderer.

After the glut of Hitler movies was reported in the press -- "It's Primetime for Hitler," Variety proclaimed -- some Jewish leaders denounced the projects as vulgar and exploitative.

They don't want to see a glossy, sympathetic "Lifestyles of the Reich and Fascist": a cute, brooding teenage Hitler painting away in a garret, listening to Wagner (the Eminem of his age), hanging at the cafes in Vienna with Wittgenstein and Freud, accumulating disappointments and rejections as raw material for "Mein Kampf," roiled by sexual confusion, frightened by the advances of an amorous milkmaid, and like everyone else then and now, steamed at the French.

"These are documentaries and films about Hitler the man, Hitler the lover, Hitler the young person," said Abraham Foxman, the chairman of the Anti-Defamation League. "I find that trivializing and offensive." Mr. Foxman and others probably fear the Tony Soprano effect, a bad guy who becomes a cult anti-hero.

CBS executives at the television press tour here seemed a little uptight about the criticism of the Hitler project, which is based on the first part of the excellent two-volume Ian Kershaw biography of the German dictator -- "Hitler, 1899-1936: Hubris."

CBS's president, Leslie Moonves, told TV critics that he thought the young Hitler was a "fascinating character."

"I also think this is a very timely subject about how bad guys get into power and how it affects the rest of the world," he said.

It's a stretch to argue that understanding an old evildoer would shed light on the new evildoers. There's a big difference between genocide and terrorism. But there's no denying Hollywood's eternal reliance on two subjects -- evil and sex.

With a group of writers trying to fathom the cultural landscape post-9/11, Mr. Moonves found himself justifying the aesthetic sensibility of a network that is touting, as two high-profile acquisitions, Young Hitler and young hotties on the annual Victoria's Secret lingerie show.

"You know, Victoria's Secret, it's a lark, it's an hour of programming," he said. "It's fun. See how much conversation we're getting about a one-hour special."

But Mr. Moonves did not seem to have a ready answer when asked what kind of company might want to advertise or underwrite the Hitler miniseries. "Volkswagen?" murmured one TV writer sarcastically.

If Young Hitler is a success, opportunistic programmers will decide that the key to understanding the great dictator's twisted soul is in his potty training.

Next year on Nickelodeon, watch for the prequel: "Baby Hitler."


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