Disgraced former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair, who built and ultimately destroyed his career by fabricating stories, is the subject of his own stranger-than-fiction tale in a TV movie coming to the Showtime network. The film marks the first Showtime Original Movie to get the go-ahead from the cable channel's recently installed openly gay entertainment president, Robert Greenblatt.
The premium cable channel said on Wednesday that the film, a dark comedy tentatively titled The Jayson Blair Project, will be based in part on articles by former Newsweek reporter Seth Mnookin, who recently left the magazine to write a book about The New York Times for Random House. The project is being eyed for a premiere sometime in 2004, with Jon Maas on board to write the script. His previous credits include a recent made-for-TV movie about John F. Kennedy Jr. and the Showtime production The Last Debate, which starred James Garner. No casting decisions have been made, said network spokesman Bryan Byrd.
The Blair project would depart from typical journalism-themed films, in which "a reporter gets his story against amazing odds," Greenblatt said in a statement. "This film will explore what made Jayson Blair so self-destructive and how his actions single-handedly destroyed his journalism career," Greenblatt said. Byrd said producers "reached out" to Blair to seek his voluntary participation in the movie but have not heard back from his representatives. In any event, he said, Showtime was not looking to option Blair's rights. "What's been optioned is the Newsweek article," Byrd said.
Word of the Showtime project comes a month after Blair signed a book deal reportedly worth about $500,000 with New Millennium Books for a memoir about his experiences, titled Burning Down My Master's House: My Life at the New York Times. Blair, who is black, has cited racism, junk food, and mental illness as the reasons for having invented scores of stories and sources during his four years at the nation's most influential newspaper. He quit the paper in May after his fabrications came to light, touching off a scandal that resulted in the resignation of the Times' two top news executives--managing editor Gerald Boyd and executive editor Howell Raines. The Times also published a 14,000-word account of Blair's fabrications and installed its first standards editor.