"Special Bulletin," a fictitious but realistic NBC Sunday night movie about a terrorist threat to destroy Charleston, S.C., with a nuclear bomb, may have angered as many people as it fooled.
"We had about 250 calls through the program," said Harry Bowman, news director of NBC affiliate WCIV in Charleston.
"About two-thirds asked about the seriousness of the story," he said. "A few people even said things like, 'I've got my bags packed, where do I go?'
"And a lot of people were complaining about the 'fiction' disclaimer we kept on the screen the whole time," he said. "We got calls from North Dakota, Alabama, Atlanta--just about everywhere."
Bowman said his station decided to keep the word "fiction" superimposed on the screen continuously during the show to keep from alarming local viewers.
For the same reason, NBC regularly superimposed the word "dramatization" on the screen during climactic segments of the movie.
"We're getting a lot of calls from people locally, who are called by their out-of-town relatives, who ask if this were really happening in Charleston," said Celia Shaw, WCIV's general manager. "Then we got calls asking why the network put this on, and would it not put ideas into the minds of some people."
In Washington, WRC reported on its 11 p.m. news program that early calls were mostly critical but that they turned favorable by the show's end.
Most of the more than 400 critical calls received by NBC in New York were complaints that the network had not provided adequate warning that the program was fictional, according to spokesman Curt Block.
"I cannot agree with that," he said, noting the extensive publicity about the show and the visual and voice disclaimers that interrupted the program seven times.
In Chicago, NBC affiliate WMAQ received more than 400 phone calls from viewers. Spokesman Nick Aronson said about 100 of those callers wanted confirmation that what they were watching was fiction.
In Columbus, Ohio, Genie Ostle, a switchboard operator at WCMH, said she had 38 calls during the program, including "three or four who were hysterical, crying" and thought it was real.