By Shauna Curphey
Friday, January 17, 2003
Hell-raiser Erin Brockovich will host a new reality television show that showcases women who fought for justice and won. It premieres tonight on Lifetime Television. Also, a correction of yesterday's Women's Enews piece on rape victim's privacy.
LOS ANGELES (WOMENS ENEWS)--After the success of the movie that made her story famous, Erin Brockovich toured the country as a motivational speaker and co-wrote a book on her victory over adversity. Now she plans to tell other women's stories in a new reality-based TV show, "Final Justice," which premieres tonight on Lifetime Television at 8 p.m. EST.
Lifetime Television recruited Brockovich to host the program, which tells true tales of women who fought for justice and won. Tonight's episode includes the tale of Susan Wilson, a Louisiana woman who successfully fought to make video voyeurism illegal after she found out her neighbor had been secretly taping her at home. The premiere also portrays the struggle of an African American woman to bring her husband's murderers to justice after they were acquitted by an all-white jury in the South, and the story of a widow who worked for over a decade gathering evidence to put the con artist who defrauded her behind bars.
"It's a show about real people, real lives, real experiences," says Brockovich. The show's focus on women who overcame obstacles to make a difference cinched her decision to sign on as host. "It's so much a part of my life and what I believe in. It was a perfect fit," she says.
Brockovich's own battle for justice led Lifetime to ask her to do the show. As a file clerk at the law firm of Masry and Vititoe in Southern California, she launched an investigation that revealed toxins leaked from a Pacific Gas and Electric Company facility caused severe health problems among the residents of Hinkley, Calif. Her research led to a $333 million dollar settlement--the largest toxic tort injury settlement in U.S. history.
"She is there to, hopefully, inspire other women," says Bill Brand, senior vice president of reality programming at Lifetime.
As the host of "Final Justice," Brockovich introduces and narrates segments, which tell women's stories through a series of dramatic reenactments. Though she's made other television appearances, the show marks Brockovich's first full-fledged foray into broadcast. Despite her novice status, Brockovich--who still works for Masry and Vititoe, now as director of environmental research--did little to prepare for her role.
"They just want me to be Erin," she says.
But Lifetime puts a limit on Brockovich's authenticity: She has to watch her language, and admits that some of the words she'd choose to narrate women's struggles aren't fit for primetime television. During a taping, a producer pointed out that it seemed the word 'angry' wasn't working for her, says Brockovich, "Because I'm not angry, I'm f---ing pissed off."
"I'm passionate about things. Some of these stories enrage me," she adds. "It's hard to get through that without really letting some words out."
Lifetime sees Brockovich's earnestness as an asset. "She's not an actor. She's just real," says Brand.
From the celebrated self-loathing of "Extreme Makeover" to the wanna-be-brides on "Joe Millionaire," reality television's latest incarnations are short on positive images of women. And while women seeking redress or revenge have long been fodder for made-for-TV movies, "Final Justice" marks the first time an entire series has been devoted to women's battles for justice.
"If it's done well, it sounds like it's going to be a great thing," says Elayne Rapping, professor of women's studies at State University of New York, Buffalo and author of "The Looking Glass World of Nonfiction TV."
Nonfiction television portrayals of women typically fall into two categories: sappy celebrity bios or crime victim stories, says Rapping.
"The importance of this kind of show is how they define women overcoming hardship and fighting the system. If it's women fighting political battles and winning, that is significant," says Rapping. "But if the ratings aren't good and they move toward the mushy stuff . . . that's been done too much already."
For now, "Final Justice" seems committed to favoring mettle over mawkishness. Future episodes include battles over the statute of limitations in rape cases, sexual harassment, identity theft and food safety. And while many of the women portrayed in upcoming episodes are victims, or have family members who are victims, "Final Justice" does not look for or focus on those stories exclusively. Lifetime's Brand says the network would consider any story of a woman who has successfully fought for justice. Lifetime launched the series with a commercial featuring Brockovich asking viewers to recommend women to be profiled on the show, and it hosted an event for women's advocacy groups in Washington to gather further recommendations.
"It's not about being sappy," Brand says. "It's about celebrating women who have made a difference."
"Erin Brockovich" the movie demonstrated the success of true tales of women who win. If "Final Justice" sticks to the idea that women's true stories don't have to be tragedies--and audiences tune in--then Erin Brockovich the person will count that as another victory.
Shauna Curphey is a freelance writer based in Long Beach, Calif.
Law Offices of Masry and Vititoe--Erin Brockovich:
"Final Justice" on Lifetime Television:
In Women's Enews yesterday, an article "Women Volunteer for Jail to Protest Court Sanction" by Stephanie B. Goldberg erroneously stated that the victim's grandmother signed a consent form and that a defense investigator failed to clearly state he was working for the defendant. In actuality, the grandmother refused to sign a consent form and the investigator did clearly identify himself. We regret the error and any implication of misconduct.