Vancouver Sun TV Times, Aug 18. 1989
Back for another tour
Zev Braun is brimming with statistics about the Vietnam War. Of the 2,700,000 men who took part in the controversial “military action,” only about a third admit to it on job applications.
“There were 10,000 American women militarily attached in Vietnam,” he continues. “There were another 5,000 civilian women. There are over 58,00 names on the memorial in Washington. How many women do you think appear there? Eight. There’s something wrong with that.”
Braun - Murphy’s Law and the Oscar-nominated documentary Marlene - is on top of numbers like these because they all figure in the way he has handled his second season as executive producer of Tour of Duty. Up until this year, it’s been mainly a combat-oriented show with the emphasis on what went on in the battlefield during 1967 in Chu Lai.
Central to the action - between bombs bursting in air - was the drama developing among career sergeant Zeke Anderson (Terence Knox) and West Point-educated platoon leader Myron Goldman (Stephen Caffrey). Last season the story moved to the early months of 1968 as the platoon was reassigned to Tan Son Nhut air base on the outskirts of Saigon - a city which, Braun claims, had turned into “a sort of modern day Casablanca” by 1968.
But there’s more to the new season than just a change of venue. Added to the cast (depleted by various onscreen deaths) were Kim Delaney (Jenny Gardner on All My Children) as an American wire-service reporter, Betsy Brantley as a civilian psychologist and Dan Gauthier as a cocky young helicopter pilot. The female contingent is there partly because Braun now finds “it compelling that women did fight this war in one way or another.”
But the women plus Gauthier are also part of the plan to shift the show toward more “interior relationships.” That’s not as simple as it might sound. In fact, “walking the fine line” between combat sequences and more personal drama, Braun says, gives him “nightmares about stepping one way or the other.”
The reason? On one hand, Braun is “resolved to keep a certain faith with the vets” - and that means sustaining action-oriented drama on the battlefield. Understandably, he doesn’t want to lose “a very loyal male audience from up to, say, age 49. It’s almost a rabid audience - as they tell us at CBS.
On the other hand, he feels a need - partly because of an increased awareness of the role of women in the war effort - to “broaden the demographics.” “The veterans organizations are telling us that it’s helping them. And to the extent that we’re a part of a healing process, we’ve got to be very careful, and we ain’t gonna pander just to demographics.”
For Gauthier, who plays the youthful Lt. John McKay, the protests during the war and the bitter aftermath didn’t mean much until he started to research his part.
“When I first stepped into the show,” he recalls, “I didn’t have that much knowledge because it wasn’t in my generation. I was born in 1963. But I’ve had an opportunity to talk to a lot of veterans and a lot of technical advisors and everything. And, boy, I’ve learned a lot, let me tell you. And it’s been a lot of fun, very broadening.”
Gauthier walked into a season that was less dependent on the good graces of the Army than it was in its first year. The show used to be filmed on a military base in Hawaii. The Army was very generous about loaning out its helicopters, jeeps, and other equipment - but the show still saved roughly $100,000 an episode with the move this year to the Los Angeles area. Army personnel look at all the scripts and frequently make suggestions for changes.
But, according to Braun, that doesn’t mean that he always goes along with what they want. Okay, so how about an example of what revisions he won’t put up with? “Specifically about the relationship of officers to enlisted men, and where the officers were acting in a less-than-attractive way. They (the Army’s readers) don’t like that, and I don’t blame them.
“We had one (officer) who was a thief and another guy who was, you know, just a mean S.O.B., giving a guy trouble that he didn’t deserve. And we’ve had other episodes where it was even more explosive than that.”