Ralph Nader has gone Hollywood. The former star of tract and testimony is moving to the stage and screen.
With a pilot for a television series completed and several movie projects along the lines of Norma Rae and The China Syndrome under development, Nader and his associates are hoping to attract a wider audience for the type of social issues he has sought to raise in reports.
New Citizen Productions in Studio City, Calif., is at work on several "docu-drama" projects it hopes to sell eventually as major feature films or, network television movies, raising the possibility that a Ralph Nader production may some day appear on television flanked by advertising for such corporations as General Motors or Allied Chemical.
"Controversy sells," said Mark Litwak, a long-time Nader associate who is president of New Citizen Productions. Litwak noted that independent producers such as New Citizen generally have no control over which advertisers buy time to sponsor their productions. Nader has cultivated carefully an image as "Mr. Clean" in the years he has been in the public eye. c
"It's unlikely that a large corporation will want to advertise on the type of programs we want to make, but I don't think that would preclude us from doing the type of programs we want," he said. He noted that such controversial television shows at The Women's Room have attracted sponsors.
Actually the relation between the Nader productions and advertisers will be somewhat arms-length. Television productions will be done for Marble Arch Productions, a television production company, not by the Nader company itself. "We are the raw material producers," said Nader.
Litwak said that Nader and his associates had discussed producing films or television shows for several years but that the success of The China Syndrome -- a film that dramatized the concerns about nuclear power plant safety -- finally moved them to action.
"We're working on a variety of projects about consumer, environmental and other social issues, trying to produce stories that would inspire people to get involved, trying to be enlightening about social issues," he said.
New Citizen, which is set up specifically to produce shows under Nader's auspices, has been in operation for about a year. The company is working with Marble Arch Productions, a television production company which has produced such shows as Friendly Fire and is supplying New Citizen with an office and other support. Marble Arch is a part of ITC Entertainment-Lord Lew Grade which has produced such movies as The Muppet Movie and Raise the Titanic.
"All our projects are based on true stories," said Litwak, who will produce the movies. Financing will depend on individual projects, he said. "Most of it will probably come from traditional sources, such as various studios and networks. We may also use some investor money," he said. The profit organizations associated with Nader or will be plowed back into more movie production. Litwak said.
Nadar "is supplying stories he's accumulated in his files and consulting regularly on the production of the stories," Litwak said. Nader is not involved in the day-to-day operations of the company. The movies ultimately may carry Nader's name as producer or they may say "Ralph Nader Presents."
"There's a lot happening in this country that is not finding its way into film, whether it's for cinema or television," said Nader. What he plans to deliver to viewers is "really very interesting, down-to-earth, highly empathetic material about conflicts between corporations and communities, environmental issues" and other subjects, he said. "There are some pretty heroic performances."
Litwak said that movie studios have shown a great deal of interest in the projects under development. "Right now all the signs are very encouraging," he said. But he added that the company is a long way off yet from producing its first work, since movies take several years to develop and television features can take us as long as a year to produce.
New Citizen has an option on The Power Broker, a Pulitzer Prize-winning book about Robert Moses, he said. Still another project called "A Matter of Courage" is the saga of a doctor in a company town who wins an electoral victory against the establishment, which then tries to destroy him.
On the television front, Nader is appearing as a commentator on the Ted Turner cable network. He also has made two pilot talk shows for Showtime, a cable television service available in 47 states over 735 systems with approximately 1.2 million viewers. The first pilot, in which Nader interviewed the chief executive of Firestone, premiered in August. The second pilot was shown Thursday night.
Showtime decided to go forward with the pilot produced by Don Davis Productions, after watching a tape of Nader debating Howard Jarvis, the father of Proposition 13, on the Merv Griffin Show, said spokeswoman Sybil Sever.
So far, the cable network has received 15 letters about the show -- all negative, she said. "But you have to remember that Showtime is in the suburbs of the suburbs," she said. "They think Ralph Nader is a communist and this show is spreading socialist poison."
Win or lose, we'll learn something," Nader said.