Media Circus: Rock this town

This time, we know who killed J.R., and smooshed the rest of the fair city of Dallas. It was them giant flamin' space asteroids!

Published February 12, 1997 8:00PM (EST)

i can hear paleontologists in TV-land arguing about it already.

Scientist A: "Once, in the not-so-distant past, our world was populated by conniving oil men, big-haired floozies, blue-and-silver-clad football monsters and yappy billionaires. Then, as if overnight, those species disappeared. I'd say that gradual climatic changes caused this mass extinction."

Scientist B: "But look at the huge crater and traces of iridium all over Middle America. Surely you must realize that only a foreign intruder could have ended Dallas' domination of the tube."

Damn right, professor. And after the much-promoted NBC flick "Asteroid" airs Sunday and Monday (9 p.m. EST), there will be plenty of evidence to bolster that theory. "Asteroid" is one of those so-called Big Event Miniseries that whiz through our galaxy during the quarterly ratings-crazed "sweeps" months. It features Michael Biehn ("Terminator," "The Rock") and Annabella Sciorra ("Jungle Fever," "The Hand that Rocks the Cradle") in a "story about heroes racing against time to save the planet from the most catastrophic natural disaster in recorded history," as the promo material puts it with admirable understatement.

Let me say right now that "Asteroid" is going to be bad, very bad. Please don't ask me to go into the plot. If you've seen the trailers in heavy rotation on NBC these past weeks, then you've seen the movie: Burning space chunks hurtle themselves earthward again and again. But most of those boogers are aimed right here at Dallas, my hometown. I can't help it, I'm excited.

The last vaguely science-fictive film to be set in Dallas was the wackily dystopian Logan's Run, which saw its 20th anniversary last year, though no one seemed to notice. (When it reaches its 30th anniversary, it will have to be killed. Them's the rules.) Of course, Dallas was the site of a real-life disaster drama a little over a decade earlier when John F. Kennedy came here. But we've never been lavished with special-effects explosions and their walking, emoting props called actors. That kind of honor is usually reserved for New York or Los Angeles. Why Dallas now?

It's all a part of TV logic, says Catheryn Boxberger of NBC Entertainment Press. "People recognize the skyline from the series 'Dallas.'" Besides, she says, viewers in the heartland are tired of disaster movies set on the coasts. We want to see ourselves destroyed for a change.

Hollywood has finally realized that we here in the Bible Belt crave the wrath of God, and we're not getting nearly enough of it these days. The Russians have pointed their missiles somewhere else, and we yawn at the day-to-day danger of floods and tornadoes. It really does take a galactic slab (or the end of air conditioning) to fill our hearts with fear.

Not that everyone in image-sensitive Dallas is psyched for doomsday. Take Karol Wilson, public relations director for the Hyatt Regency Dallas, whose sphere-topped Reunion Tower gets pinged nightly during the promos for the miniseries.

"I've already been interviewed about 10 times about that," she snapped before I could even get the syllables "-teroid" out of my mouth.

"No, we're not concerned," she twanged on. "No, we're not having a watching party. My best advice is to duck and pray."

Texas Commerce Tower senior property manager Ray Mackey was far more mellow. But then again, he hadn't yet seen the vengeful meteor set to flatten his skyscraper (which looks, by the way, exactly like a 55-story male sex organ, only with a disconcerting hole in the head).

"I consider it good publicity, unless the story line implies that high-rise buildings are dangerous places in emergencies," he said. Of course, Texas Commerce Tower has state-of-the-art safety features, he added. And both Mackey and Wilson also assured me that their buildings are insured against all sorts of natural disasters, although asteroids aren't specifically written into the policies.

Better expand that coverage. Getting destroyed by a 'roid is about to become the height of millennial hipness. Zeitgeist-watcher Douglas Coupland pointed out in Sunday's New York Times that our disaster frenzy is reaching another cyclical peak in Hollywood. This time, flaming space balls are king: At least three more asteroid movies are on the way. And the mega-doom scenario has already generated atrocious novels by everyone from Arthur C. Clarke to Pat Robertson.

Robertson's 1995 novel "The End of the Age" tells a rollicking tale of what happens after a "giant meteor from deep space" plunges into the Pacific Ocean smack dab off the coast of Los Angeles. Naturally, it sends all of Hollywood to a watery grave, causing the seas to boil, cities to catch fire, and the president to commit suicide on live television. The trauma also makes born-again Christians out of the protagonists, Carl and Lori Throneberry. Several whores, horsemen and Marks of the Beast later, they win the "ultimate battle between good and evil" and ascend to heaven via a "shimmering space craft." It's the 700 Club mogul's first novel, published right here in Dallas.

Certainly I couldn't pick a more pleasing form of destruction than a meteor shower for myself and my people. Most disaster flicks have at their core some dreary moral prohibition: Don't live on a fault line. Don't go on that cruise. Don't chase tornadoes. Don't hang out too near the local volcano. But "don't put your city in the path of an asteroid"? Get real. Yes, some astronomers are warning of our inevitable extinction unless we build us some shooting-star-shooters -- and soon. But until that happens, who could ask for a more blameless exit than death by cosmic flotsam?

Deus ex machina is good for Dallas. I'm good and ready for my righteous doom, and I hope J.R. Ewing, Michael Irvin, Ross Perot and the rest of us are as well. Because I doubt many of y'all will be sorry to see us gone for good.

By Julia Barton

Julia Barton is a writer who lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her website is

MORE FROM Julia Barton

Related Topics ------------------------------------------