Larger Than Life

October 01, 2000 4 min read

Teachers: You no longer have to wonder which actor or actress would play you in a movie. The fall entertainment season is upon us, and five school-based movies and television shows have the answers. Casting agents have deemed Denzel Washington coach material, Kevin Spacey the perfect classroom maverick, and several too-cute-for-school actresses as appropriate symbols of the idealistic, Gen X educator.

Hollywood will no doubt take liberties with reality. “We’re not trying to recreate actual teachers’ lives,” producer Jonathan Pontell says of Boston Public, his new TV series about a school’s faculty. “It’s a dramatic presentation.” But the fact that headliner talent is stepping into cardboard classrooms this season might give the teaching profession a touch of glamour.

Remember the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced Top Gun? A record number of recruits— Tom Cruise wannabes, no doubt—signed up for the Air Force following that film. In the early 1990s, applications to American law schools peaked when David Kelley’s L.A. Law, a series about legal eagles in Los Angeles, was must-see TV. The show ran from 1986 to 1994, and law school applications jumped from 61,300 in 1986 to a peak of 94,000 in 1991. Both Bruckheimer and Kelley are producing shows about teachers this fall. Video may have killed the radio star, but it just might revive the teaching profession.

Remember the Titans

Premiere: September 29
Where To See It: Cinemas
Production Notes: A Disney Pictures film; produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (Dangerous Minds).
Trailer Talk: “History is written by the winners.”
Story: When a southern high school integrates, a black teacher is hired as head football coach and the school’s more experienced white coach is demoted to assistant. Can they set aside their differences and create a winning team?
Characters: Denzel Washington (The Hurricane) plays new head coach Herman Boone; Will Patton (Armageddon) is coach Bill Yoast.
Behind the Scenes: The movie is based on real incidents that occurred at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1971.

Boston Public

Premiere: October 23
Where To See It: FOX, Mondays at 8 p.m. EST
Production Notes: Created and produced by multi-Emmy-winner David Kelley (Ally McBeal, The Practice) in association with 20th Century Fox Television.
Trailer Talk:
“If you thought being a student was hard, try being a teacher.”
Story: A teacher fires a gun in his classroom to attract the attention of his students. The principal shoves a bully against a wall of lockers. A student creates a Web site that spreads rumors about teachers. And that’s just in the first episode of this one-hour drama about the professional and personal lives of the faculty at Winslow High, a fictional, mid-size public school in Boston.
Characters: Chi McBride (Gone in Sixty Seconds) plays no-nonsense principal Steven Harper; newcomer Jessalyn Gilsig inhabits the star-making role of Lauren Davis, the twentysomething, angst-ridden head of the social studies department. Other faces in the staff room include Fyvish Finkel (Picket Fences) as an 80-year-old history teacher who thinks today’s kids are too damn rude; Anthony Heald (who had a small role in the 1984 film Teachers) as a vice principal nicknamed “the Nazi” who’s sweet on Lauren; and Nicky Katt (The Boiler Room) as a maverick geology teacher.
Behind the Scenes: Co-executive producer Jonathan Pontell is married to a teacher.


Premiere: October 8
Where To See It: NBC, Sundays at 8 p.m. EST
Production Notes: Written by Rob Burnett and Jon Beckerman, former writer/producers for The Late Show With David Letterman; produced by Burnett, Beckerman, and Letterman.
Story: When Ed, a New York City lawyer, loses his job and discovers his wife’s been cheating on him, he returns to his hometown of Stuckeyville, Ohio, to start anew. There, he runs into the most popular girl in his high school class, now a teacher at their alma mater. In an early ploy to win her over, he dons a suit of knight’s armor and crashes her classroom.
Characters: Julie Bowen (ER) plays the object of Ed’s affection; Lesley Boone (ABC’s short-lived cop drama High Incident) plays her colleague Molly. Behind the Scenes: Bowen tutors high school kids in real life.

Pay It Forward

Premiere: October 20
Where To See It: Cinemas
Production Notes: Presented by Warner Bros. Pictures in association with Bel- Air Entertainment; directed by Mimi Leder (Deep Impact).
Trailer Talk: “Is it possible for one idea to change the world?”
Story: A cynical social studies teacher challenges each kid in his junior high class to think of an idea to better the world and put it into action. When one of his students creates a system of doing favors for others, the kid not only helps his struggling single mother deal with her alcoholism, but also sets off an epidemic of do-gooding across the nation.
Characters: Kevin Spacey (American Beauty) stars as the teacher and Haley Joel Osment (the kid who saw dead people in The Sixth Sense) is his inspired student.
Behind the Scenes: The movie is based on the novel of the same name by Catherine Ryan Hyde. In the book, the social studies teacher is African American.

Company Man

Premiere: February
Where To See It: Cinemas
Production Notes: A Paramount Classics film; written and directed by Peter Askin and Doug McGrath.
Trailer Talk: “International intelligence just got dumber.”
Story: In this spoof set in the 1960s, a nerdy Connecticut teacher signs up to spy for the CIA as a way to avoid his nagging wife.
Characters: The teacher, played by writer/director McGrath, is “one part Inspector Clouseau, one part Bean, and no parts James Bond,” according to publicity materials.

—Samantha Stainburn