December 17, 2008 / 9:23 PM / 10 years ago

Oscar-winning "Crash" finds new life on TV

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Four years after polarizing Americans with its take on racial bigotry and stereotypes, Oscar-winning movie “Crash” is enjoying a new life as a television series that has equally divided critics.

Writer and director Paul Haggis arrives at a screening celebrating the DVD box set release of the "Dirty Harry" film franchise in Los Angeles May 29, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

The mixed reception for the edgy TV show, which like the movie explores race and racism among city dwellers, comes as little surprise to Canadian writer-director Paul Haggis. He first envisaged “Crash” as a TV show, but was ridiculed when he began pitching the idea to executives in the early 2000s.

“When I came up with an idea I automatically thought of it as a TV series but ‘Crash’ didn’t seem to fit one. When I took it around and tried to pitch it, people laughed at me, “ Haggis told Reuters.

After the movie “Crash” won three Oscars for 2005, including one for the year’s best film, everything changed.

“Then people said ‘oh, okay’,” Haggis laughed.

“Crash” the TV series stars Dennis Hopper and is the first original drama on U.S. premium cable TV channel Starz, reflecting a trend that has seen acclaimed dramas and comedies find homes on subscription channels as network TV turns toward reality and game shows.

Haggis, 55, is an executive producer but sees himself more as the show’s “cheerleader,” having handed the writing to a team that has created a new set of misbehaving cops of all ethnicities, a reformed Korean gang member and a rich, white frustrated housewife.

Turning over his fictional baby wasn’t too hard for Haggis, even though “Crash” was inspired by events in his own life in Los Angeles, including a late-night carjacking in 1991.

“The concept for the TV series was very different than the feature film. If it had followed the same stories, it would have been much more difficult to hand it over, because you’d be saying ‘No, no, no, my characters don’t go there.’

“But Glen Mazzara (the TV series creator) wisely created an entirely different world but on the same theme,” Haggis said.

While the Oscar-winning movie divided critics and audiences over whether it overplayed problematic race relations in multiethnic Los Angeles, the 13-episode TV series has been found by some critics to lack the intensity of the movie.

“The racial fire is oddly muted,” The Hollywood Reporter wrote in a review.

The show, which ends its run on Starz in January, scored an average of 42 out of 100 from 18 critics on Web site, which aggregates reviews.

New York’s Newsday called it “gritty, jarring, profane and smartly produced,” while TV Guide said it is “provocative and intriguing, but leaves you wondering if the whole setup might not simply work better as a movie.”

“I knew it would polarize people. I was being largely critical of a group of people who don’t like being criticized — white liberals like myself,” Haggis said. “I was amazed we got any good press. I didn’t set out to get good notices. I set out to do something that was haunting me.”

Haggis said he thought racism and racial stereotyping had changed little in Los Angeles in the past few years.

Since his Oscar win, he has written for movies ranging from Clint Eastwood’s “Flags of our Fathers” to the two recent James Bond capers “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace.”

He wrote and directed war-related movie “In the Valley of Elah,” starring Charlize Theron and Tommy Lee Jones.

“There are the projects you write, and the passion projects you do as a writer-director. As a writer, you hand your script in and wish them good luck. Your job is to give them a blue print and they can follow it or not,” he said.

Editing by Bob Tourtellotte

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