On the Case

Our new TV series is ready to roll

American television has become a fetid waste pit of banality, but we have the solution.

The solution involves a spin-off of an existing show, but if you can't be derivative, you have no business pretending to be a TV exec.

Our proposal: Law & Order: Zero Tolerance Unit. And we have our first episode -- based on true events!

On the mean streets of The Woodlands, where teens in Lincoln Navigators prowl menacingly past suspiciously manicured lawns, trouble is always present.

Big trouble. Like the day in February when Max Briese went bad.

Briese, a student at Branch Crossing Junior High, learned the hard lessons that will be a weekly feature on Law & Order: ZTU. He took a television remote control from one classroom and sneaked it into another. As the teacher tried nobly to impart knowledge, Briese surreptitiously turned the teacher's TV on and off (in middle school terms, this is humor on a par with Vonnegut, or Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad).

Somehow the school's assistant principal showed up during the ensuing "Who's doing that?" brouhaha. And that's how things ended up in court.

Briese was charged with "disruption of class," an offense under the state's Education Code that can carry a fine of $500.

Briese's father, Chuck, says his kid was also threatened with a theft charge. He adds that the assistant principal is "a very overzealous kind of guy."

Overzealous? That's the motto of the ZTU squad. And so Montgomery County prosecutor Tracy Pullan put her three years of UH Law School to glorious use by preparing the case. (The pilot episode will feature a gauzy flashback of Pullan ignoring a bitchin' party in order to bone up on the Education Code's lengthy section on "Jokes About Uranus.") But alas, the teacher refused to testify.

Witness tampering! Witness intimidation!

Well, maybe not. "My understanding is she has several small children and she no longer is a teacher and just couldn't get away…from her kids," Pullan says. The case, pending before a justice of the peace, was dropped September 13. "The assistant principal wasn't too happy about this," Pullan says.

No kidding -- Max Briese is now free to terrorize classroom TVs everywhere. (School officials aren't commenting.)

Anyway, we're sure it will make riveting television. Our sweeps month special will feature an innocent substitute teacher traumatized by the fact that she apparently has students named Mike Hunt and Heywood Jablome.

Eat and Run

There's an old saying about legendary football coaches: You don't want to be the guy who replaces (for example) Bear Bryant. You want to be the guy who replaces the guy who replaced Bear Bryant.

Apparently that saying doesn't hold for Houston Chronicle food editors. The paper is looking to replace the person who replaced the person who replaced the person who replaced the legend.

Ann Criswell ruled the Chron food section for 34 years before retiring in late 2000. Since then the paper's gone through section editors like Olive Garden goes through busboys.

John DeMers lasted 18 months; Jane P. Marshall endured about half that long, and Janice Schindeler even less.

Schindeler wouldn't comment on her recent firing, but rumors are that she grew exasperated making up for an understaffed section and her bosses grew exasperated with her exasperation.

And so, for the fourth time in four years, the Chron begins a search for a food editor. Whoever they pick probably shouldn't make long-term plans.

Shooting Star

If you're going to get shot by an ex-girlfriend, you should at least get some money out of the deal. Not to mention get yourself portrayed on TV by the dashing Esai Morales of NYPD Blue fame.

Gary Taylor, a reporter for the industry publication Oilgram News, finds himself in just that position. Shot 24 years ago by attorney Catherine Mehaffey Shelton (a.k.a. the Black Widow -- some ex-lovers or former associates have been wounded or died violently; she says she's had nothing to do with that), Taylor is now sitting back and waiting for Heartless, a CBS movie starring Melanie Griffith.

The Hollywood Reporter says that Morales will play "an ambitious newspaper reporter who goes undercover to get the story" on a woman based on Shelton, a plot that comports with reality about as well as a Bush administration WMD estimate.

Taylor doesn't mind, though. He got paid by the producers for his "life rights," or the chance to tell his story. "My case is the only one where there's a conviction, so I guess they thought they needed it," he says.

It's not the first time he's made money off the incident. "In 1990 I got $5,000 for a movie that was never made," he says. "The money gets a lot bigger" when a movie "actually goes into production."

How much? He won't say. "It's not enough to retire on, but it's enough to buy some furniture and take a trip," he says.

Through the years he's chatted about the case with Oprah, Regis, Sally Jessy Raphael and the crew at 48 Hours. Getting shot is a gift that keeps giving.

"I figure, hey, I ought to get something out of it," he says.

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