John Ehrlichman told prison officials yesterday he planned to watch Part One of "Washington: Behind Closed Doors," a TV serial based on his novel. "The Company," on television last night.
Ehrlichman, serving a 30-month to eight-year term at the Swift Trail Federal Prison Camp near Safford, Ariz., for Watergate-related offenses, has refused to talk to reporters since checking that the camp last October.
But he told prison administrator Ben Brown that he wanted to watch the show, which is based very loosly on his roman a clef about dirty politics and CIA skullduggery in Washington.
There are four TV sets at the camp, one of them a "super-screen" model in the prison auditorium, Brown said, and two of them located outdoors under an awning, since the weather in this part of Arizona is "perfect" nine months out of the year.
Viewer groups decide which channel will be watched on each of the four sets; "I would suspect the program will be shown on at least one of them," Brown said. "Washington" was scheduled to air from 7:30 to about 9:45 p.m., Mountain Time, which is three hours behind Eastern time.
David Rintels and Eric Bercovici, writers and coproducers of the program, have said they used little of the actual novel in putting together their six-part, 12-hour series, which kicks off the new TV season for the ABC network. Bercovici said recently in Washington that one reason was that Ehrlichman is "not a very good writer."
However, he and Rintels praised the authentic "feel" of Oval Office discussions in the book and Ehrlichman's central character, a president obviously patterned after Richard M. Nixon.
Ehrlichman recently answered written questions about his book for a copyrighted interview published in The Phoenix Gazette. In the interview, Ehrlichman said he had nothing to do with the TV version.
"I had good advice," Ehrlichman wrote. "Either be all the way into the filming, or all the way out. Since it's an art form I know little about, it seems wise to stay completely out and put confidence in the experts. if it's good, they deserve total credit. And vice versa."
Neither the book's publisher, Simon and Schuster, nor Paramount Pictures, which originally bought it, would say how much Ehrlichman was paid for film rights to the book, but some sources have put the figure at $75,000. Rintels and Bercovici said they didn't know the selling price themselves.