Stephen King’s short stories make great TV

  • By Victor Balta / Herald Columnist
  • Wednesday, July 5, 2006 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Enter the mind of Stephen King, if you dare.

TNT offers the chance next week when it kicks off eight one-hour TV adaptations of some of King’s short stories in the series “Nightmares &Dreamscapes.”

The hourlong short films, which are related only in that they’re based on King’s stories, will air two at a time at 9 p.m. Wednesdays for four weeks.

These stories are well written, well directed and wonderfully acted by some top-notch stars. It’s clear that TNT took the time and effort to do them up right.

The series starts with “Battleground,” starring Oscar winner William Hurt. This first installment is presented commercial-free.

It’s a particularly eerie and disturbing viewing experience, if nothing else but for the fact that it’s devoid of dialogue.

Hurt plays a hired assassin whose latest victim is the CEO of a toy company.

He offs the guy quickly, but that’s just the beginning.

Back at his posh San Francisco apartment, a mysterious box of toy soldiers is delivered and that’s when things really get crazy.

It’s a riveting piece of television that will astonish you with its ability to reel you in despite the lack of conversation and the utter absurdity of the premise.

The film includes some classic King moments, when ordinary, smiling kids’ toys take on a whole new creepy appearance and nothing is as simple and straightforward as it seems.

Another good bet is the story “Umney’s Last Case,” starring the loveable William H. Macy.

It airs at 9 p.m. July 19.

Macy gets a chance to play here as he portrays a modern-day fiction writer and a 1930s private detective the writer invented.

When Sam Landry, the writer, loses his son in a drowning accident he finds himself uninspired in his personal life and in his writing. That’s when he decides to change places with the smooth, witty, snappy detective he created.

And when King says “change places” he means it.

Things get weird when Landry inserts himself in the 1930s world and the detective, Clyde Umney, is planted in the modern day.

The transition provides some comical moments, but some of the best parts come when Landry and Umney chat.

Landry, a meek and fairly timid guy, delights in his ability to literally write and rewrite Umney’s destiny. We get to see the story and parts of Umney’s character unfolding and changing in real time as Landry, laptop in hand in the 1930s, alters the story whenever he pleases.

A couple of other promising episodes include “You Know They Got a Hell of a Band,” starring Steven Weber (“Wings”) and Kim Delaney (every TV movie ever made, and “NYPD Blue”). The couple takes a wrong turn on a desolate road and comes upon a town that isn’t on any map: Rock and Roll Heaven, Ore.

“There’s a free concert every night, but the price of admission is high – once you enter, you can never leave,” says the synopsis.

Another chapter stars Tom Berenger as a famous writer who learns he may soon die. On his way home, he buys a painting that he becomes convinced is trying to kill him.

These stories will be a delight for any King fan. They make for some of the most interesting summertime TV you’re going to find.

Victor Balta’s column runs Mondays and Thursdays on the A&E page. Reach him at 425-339-3455 or

For more TV and pop culture scoop, check out Victor’s blog at

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