Lights, cameras, action at "The Bronx is Burning" premiere
The first celebrity to arrive at the premiere of "The Bronx is Burning" in New York City on Thursday night was Jimmy Breslin. Which was only fitting, considering Breslin was the best reporter on the 1977 Son of Sam murder case, one of several story lines that appear in ESPN's eight-hour adaptation of Jonathan Mahler's book chronicling that stormy time in the city's history.
The miniseries begins airing on Monday at 10 p.m. on ESPN, and then continues for seven consecutive Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on ESPN (the second episode airs July 17).
I hadn't been to a red-carpet event in a while and was looking forward to seeing who would brave the wet weather to make an appearance. I saw former mayor Ed Koch slip out of a town car, and soon he was standing behind Breslin talking to reporters on his way into the theater. If the miniseries can represent New York in 1977 as well as that piece of pavement did at that moment, it'll be worth watching.
Next to arrive was actor Evan Hart, who plays Bucky Dent in the miniseries. He's not really an A-lister, but it was nice to see he brought his grandmother.
After Eric Jensen, who plays Thurman Munson, came by, it really felt like 1977 as Goose Gossage, Graig Nettles, Paul Blair and Mickey Rivers arrived. Rivers was the star of the premiere, bringing his bubbling-over enthusiasm to every encounter.
It's fun to watch seasoned celebrities work a red carpet. Koch, Breslin, John Turturro (who plays Billy Martin) and Oliver Platt (George Steinbrenner) strolled along and then would stop on a dime, swaying back and forth to accommodate barking photographers. "Straight ahead please to your left please step to your right." Their smiles looked genuine, but disappeared as soon as the cameras stopped flashing. It's also funny to hear the photographers call out the names of their publications, as if that will produce a special smile. The actors heard a steady stream of "Daily News" and "New York Times" and "Post," but I detected no change in their demeanor.
With the rain picking up, I went inside and ran into actor Max Casella -- Dick Howser in "Bronx" -- and his wife Leona. Casella played Benny Fazio on "The Sopranos," so I told him that each episode of "The Bronx is Burning" ends with Reggie Jackson looking up and across a room, and then the screen goes black. "Sounds familiar," he said with a smile. Casella's on a bit of a roll, as his next two projects look like blockbusters. He's making "Revolutionary Road" with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet right now, and he's also in the George Clooney-directed "Leatherheads," about the early days of pro football, with Clooney and Renee Zellweger.
I also ran into Michael Rispoli (Jackie Aprile on "The Sopranos"), who plays Breslin in "The Bronx is Burning." Rispoli is working -- with Breslin's approval -- on an off-Broadway show about Breslin, with a working title of "I'm No Good and I Can Prove It." After the writing is completed and the play is workshopped, the goal is to have a late-fall run at Michael Imperioli's "Studio Dante" in New York City. Based on Rispoli's performance in "Bronx," the Breslin show will be worth looking out for.
While mingling around, I saw Turturro meet Rivers, Blair and some of the other former Yankees. Even though Turturro was technically "working" as he promoted this project, he looked delighted to shake hands with some idols from his youth. He kept asking them, "Did you meet my brother Nick? He's the ultimate Yankee fan." They all posed for pictures together and really seemed to be enjoying each other's company. Rivers even referred to Turturro as "Billy" (for his character, Billy Martin) all night -- he cracked everyone up with his nonstop jovial banter.
Finally, we all got to watch the first three episodes of the miniseries. I sat a few rows away from Rivers and the other Yankees. I couldn't hear his exact words, but Rivers was consistently cracking up his old teammates with his commentary as the episodes played on the big screen. I hope someone had a microphone on him, because his commentary would probably make for one heckuva DVD extra.