Station to Station

The B&C Book Review: 'Death by Deadline'

10/03/2011 08:00:48 AM

Can Out of Control Local News Kill People?

Veteran anchor Larry Kane, considered the deal of Philadelphia TV news after some four decades of covering the local scene for WPVI, WCAU and KYW, has taken a shot at fiction writing, and acknowledges how difficult spinning a good yarn is. Death by Deadline took 13 years to write, says the first-time novelist, as he rewrote the novel four times. Kane, with multiple non-fiction books published by major labels to his credit, self-published Death by Deadline after struggling to find a publisher.

The end product is a decent little thriller set in the various TV station newsrooms around Philadelphia. Kane paints an intriguing, if bleak, portrait of TV stations staffed by jaded news gatherers. While a few anchors come off as earnest and faithful to the facts, Death by Deadline is littered with rogues and renegades who consort with denizens of Philly’s underworld for tips, sleep with fellow on air talent, and run roughshod over the truth in an effort to be first, and to win the ratings race by scaring the heck out of viewers.

Kane clearly takes issue with the state of local news today.

At one point in the novel, a local activist, Angel Esperanza, blows up at a magazine reporter about the state of the media, and local TV in particular. “Local TV news is out of control with innuendo, false reports, and a foggy version of the real world. I don’t trust many of our reporters to tell us the truth. Too much tabloid, too little real news. In fact, you must be a graduate of TV news, because some of your questions are just plain bad. Where’s the beef in your questioning, young lady?”

Death by Deadline is told through the eyes of one of the honest reporters, the veteran anchor Michael Marone (no relation to, ya know, me). Throughout the book, chapters start with brief italicized musings from Marone, who finds himself bleeding and woozy on the side of the highway, and not completely sure what has happened.

As the plot progresses, the source of Marone’s injuries becomes apparent. Philly activist thugs with a score to settle against the local news outlets set the wheels in motion for a bogus news story, feeding bad info to an unscrupulous anchor, who of course runs with the juicy would-be breaking news. Panic ensues, and scores are injured (and some killed) as people flee Philadelphia. The voice of reason amidst the mayhem ends up coming not from the TV stations but from news radio.

Death by Deadline has some editing issues, as one might expect from a self-published effort. Characters at times speak in B-movie clichés; “Flattery will get you everywhere,” coos a sexy female anchor to a male counterpart. The budding romance between those two anchors feels forced. And Kane has this odd habit of giving characters first and last names with the same initial (Michael Marone, Harvey Hopkins, Marty McCann, Patricia Porillo, Brandon Bartnikoff and Veronica Victor are among the anchors.)  Kane says it was unintentional, but the alliterative names make the characters feel more like comic strip heroes and heels than flesh and blood people.

But there’s taut suspense to Death by Deadline, and it’s a lean and often enjoyable read at 248 pages. Anyone who’s worked in local television — or most any newsroom, for that matter — will appreciate the tension of gathering news and racing to be first. Kane, the author of the memoir Larry Kane’s Philadelphia, also offers a fresh look at the City of Brotherly Love, a city underrepresented in literature and film. From its greasy underbelly to “the rowers and coxswain of a racing shell that glisten in the sun as they speed along the Schuylkill River,” Death by Deadline is, at times, like tagging along with Rocky on an early a.m. run.

Kane, who hosts the Voice of Reason program on The Comcast Network, will publish When They Were Boys, his third Beatles-related book, with Perseus Group in 2013. He may not venture down the fiction road again, but the veteran newsman hasn’t embarrassed himself with Death by Deadline.

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