Another Movie To See: “Special Bulletin”

I was going to hold off a day or two to avoid mentioning two TV shows close together, but after PZ Myers’s post about today’s “journalism”….

“Special Bulletin” is a made for TV movie that first aired on March 20, 1983.  It was a pretend newscast covering a group of domestic terrorists threatening to detonate a nuclear weapon near Charleston, South Carolina, unless their demands were met (the destruction of the US government’s nuclear weapons detonators).  It retrospect, the movie seems almost prescient and accurate in depicting domestic terrorist attacks (e.g. the Oklahoma City bombing) and high profile confrontations with the US government (e.g. Ruby Ridge; Waco, Texas; Bundy Standoff), though the politics and motivations of the movie terrorists (anti-nuke and environmentalists) were vastly different than the long string of real life US domestic terrorists (rightwing fanatics).

While the movie’s plot is about the threat of a nuclear bomb detonation, the real story is how the news media covers sensationalist stories.  Sometimes they overstep their place and become part of the story, or their presence encourages and empowers the terrorists (e.g. how serial killers feed off of news coverage).  The irony of this is that the pretend newscast in the movie is now more sane, sober and dispassionate than most of what passes for network and cable “news” forty years later.  It’s worth watching for that alone.

The director was Edward Zwick, who went on to make films such as “Glory”, “The Siege”, “Blood Diamond” and many other well known films.  Zwick cowrote the story with Marshall Herskovitz, the two working together on many other movies.  Herskovitz worked alone on films like “Jack The Bear”, “I Am Sam” and many others.

The casting choices were an interesting choices cross section of 1970s and 1980s hollywood. The actors playing newscasters were known but not household names, making them more convincing, and several actors playing the nuclear terrorists would surprise you, knowing their other roles. Ed Flanders was less than a year into “St. Elsewhere” when “Special Bulletin” aired. Roxanne Hart had many small roles but had not yet become famous for “Highlander” and “Chicago Hope”. David Rasche was a few years away from his most famous role, “Sledge Hammer!” Kathryn Walker (one of the co-anchors) and Rosalind Cash were the most well known; Walker for “Slap Shot” (1977), and Cash in “The Omega Man” (1971).

As of now, the full movie can still be seen on youtube (not posted by me).



  1. antaresrichard says

    I haven’t seen ‘Special Bulletin’ since its first telecast when I worked in broadcast news. Still, I remain amazed at George Takashima’s portable camera which seem to both have the ability to broadcast footage without the apparent aid of a news van to beam the signal back to the newsroom (this occurs before the live cable hookup) and, unless the latter feed line also carried power to the camera, an amazing battery life of well over 24 hours!

    I know, I know I’m missing the point.


    • says

      You’re right that the tech didn’t exist at the time, but it’s easier to overlook technical details when they’re not far fetched or deus ex machina. This wasn’t some big plot hole that made the whole narrative look ridiculous (re: Die Hard 2, nobody using the onboard phones to land the planes).