Undercover footage of a heroin buy staged in Kansas City, Mo., for NBC cameras will not be aired on the "Today Show" after all, the program's producer, Steve Friedman, decided yesterday. Friedman said from New York that the story built around the footage turned out to be "quite frankly a little thin" and that he was bothered by the publicity that has surrounded the caper.
According to a report by Peter H. Brown in Sunday's Los Angeles Times, Friedman agreed to buy from free-lance journalist Jon Alpert a videotape made with a concealed camera of a man selling a gram of heroin for $100 in a Kansas City men's room early in May. Alpert had arranged for the taping with Craig Glazer and Don Woodbeck; Glazer is a former undercover narcotics agent and Woodbeck a former narcotics informer.
The pair have been compared to Starsky and Hutch and to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
According to Brown's story, Glazer was convicted in 1975 of framing two men in a drug bust and Woodbeck, who worked with Glazer on that arrest, had subsequently been convicted of bribery and marijuana possession in Arizona. Both men now live in Hollywood and are reportedly taking acting lessons so they can play themselves in a proposed movie based on their lives.
Friedman said yesterday he decided to cancel the scheduled segment, which includes the concealed camera footage of the drug sale, because he felt Glazer and Woodbeck were using the "Today Show" to further their show-biz careers. "I didn't mind that they wanted to make their lives in the movies," he said. "But I resented all this hype -- leaks to newspapers and public comments from their agent. I began to think, 'Maybe this whole thing is just staged for us from top to bottom.'"
The point of the story and the derring-do was originally to break up a drug ring operating in the Kansas City area, Friedman said, "but the story wasn't there" and only one lone sale was recorded on tape.
Filmmaker Alpert, who has contributed many essays on street people to the "Today Show," said yesterday Friedman's decision was "not a bad one" and that he'd noticed that Friedman and "Today Show" host Tom Brokaw were "very nervous" about the story. He also said he considered the story a fizzle: "It kinda got lost in the soup."
Friedman says the concealed camera footage of the drug sale is NBC property because an NBC crew made it. Alpert said he has the tape in his possession and has no plans to turn it over to NBC or to any law enforcement agency, nor does he plan to try peddling elsewhere.
Maj. Lloyd Cooper of the Kansas City police department said he would like to see the footage but that a Jackson County prosecutor has ruled there is insufficient grounds to try obtaining the tape through legal means. "I was told by one law enforcement officer that there was only a side view of the alleged perpetrator anyway," said Cooper, "so I think it has become a moot point."
Asked if he were irked about the incident and the staging of a drug deal for TV, Cooper said, "Any time there is a purchase of narcotics in Kansas City it bothers me, because it is illegal. My personal feeling is that it's a very dangerous thing to try staging something like this without law enforcement officials on hand who could handle any dangerous situation that might arise."
Friedman said he saw no ethical problem in staging the drug deal for TV and that NBC policy would prohibit him from turning over any footage to law enforcement authorities, except for footage that had actually been aired, and now, none will be. He said his major misgiving was all the advance hoopla.
"These guys did a lot of pre-story hype, and when that happens, I start getting a little leery," said Friedman. "I think they were trying to use us more than we should be used." He said NBC had paid Glazer and Woodbeck nothing, but did fly them to New York once to discuss the story. Neither man could be reached for comment yesterday.
Asked if he was uncomfortable with Glazer and Woodbeck's motives in setting up the caper, Alpert said, "Most people involved in television have some type of motive."