The attorney for actor Robert Blake, accused of murdering his wife, quit the case yesterday, saying he was frustrated with Blake's insistence on giving a television interview to ABC News.
"At some point you get pushed too far," said Harland Braun, a noted criminal lawyer whom Blake hired within hours of the shooting death of Bonny Lee Bakley in May 2001.
"Our view of the media is different," Braun told The Post's Sharon Waxman. "He's an actor, he thinks he can get his version over undistorted in its entirety, and I don't think it's possible."
Blake, who gave an interview to The Post earlier this month, had asked the prison for permission for an on-camera interview with ABC News's Diane Sawyer. Blake spokesman Dale Olsen said the interview was scheduled for this Friday.
ABC News declined to comment to The TV Column on the report, citing a "long-standing policy" of not discussing upcoming bookings.
Until it wants them publicized.
But L.A. County Sheriff spokesman Richard Westin said the request was still under consideration, and that prison officials generally deny such interviews when they are opposed by the accused's lawyer.
"We will wait to see who the attorney is. But we would not do it if there is no compelling interest," Westin told Waxman. "It doesn't look like we're going to approve it."
Tension between Blake and his counsel had been rising for some weeks, as the actor had been agitating to give interviews to the media after many months of silence, and many months of isolation in the L.A. County Men's Jail.
He pleaded not guilty to the murder, and has told police and The Post that he barely knew Bakley, whom he married after she became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter who proved to be Blake's. Bakley was shot in the head as she sat in the passenger seat of Blake's car after the couple had dined at an Encino restaurant.
Braun said he had hoped that Blake could satisfy his need to express himself with a couple of newspaper interviews and private talks with Sawyer, Barbara Walters and other celebrity journalists. He had warned his client that giving interviews while awaiting trial for murder was potentially dangerous.
The lawyer said he found out about the Sawyer interview when an ABC producer called to talk about it last Friday. Blake's civil lawyer had written the jail to make the request; Braun said he pleaded with Blake to cancel, saying a television interview could sway public opinion against him.
"The camera is so distorting," said Braun. "It would take him in a trial a day or day and a half to explain this incredibly complicated story. If you pluck a fact out of this out of context -- like, for example, why did you leave the gun in the booth, why did you park behind the Dumpster -- particularly in a medium as strong as television, you're going to crystallize public opinion."
Braun met with Blake yesterday at the jail to inform him of his decision to resign. He said Blake responded, "I understand." Even if Blake canceled the interview with Sawyer, Braun said that the actor is likely to get out on bail and give interviews then.
Olsen said he spoke to Blake after the meeting with Braun and that the actor told him the decision "was a shock."
Scott Ross, the lead investigator for the Blake defense team, told Waxman that he was devastated by Braun's decision but agreed with it.
No criminal lawyer would tolerate a client's constant talking to the media while in the middle of a murder trial, Ross said. "This is not the way it works in the real world. This is not Hollywood. This is not a murder mystery whodunit. This is a murder trial. His life is on the line."
Said Braun: "It's his life, his case, ultimately he has to decide. On the other hand, there are limits to which I can bend."
Fox News Channel's "Hannity & Colmes" edged out CNN's flagship "Larry King Live" for the month of October -- a first for "Hannity & Colmes."
"H&C" averaged 1.65 million viewers during the month to King's 1.58 million.
(In September, King had barely maintained his lead over time slot competitor "H&C" with averages of 1.32 million and 1.28 million viewers, respectively.)
Among cable news networks, October went to FNC with a prime-time average of 1.62 million, compared with CNN's 1.22 million. MSNBC averaged 449,000 viewers.
Compared with September, all three networks received enormous ratings boosts in October with almost incessant coverage of the sniper shootings in the Washington region. CNN was up a whopping 42 percent month-to-month, FNC up 37 percent and MSNBC up 33 percent, all in prime time.
On Wednesday night, when the sniper investigation really revved up and the cable news networks started showing that footage of the yard search in Tacoma, Wash., FNC's Greta Van Susteren scored an enormous 3.5 million viewers, making hers the most watched program on all of cable that night.
The next night, when authorities had snagged shooting suspects John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo, all three cable news networks posted their largest audiences of the calendar year. For CNN that meant 2.92 million prime-time viewers, for FNC it was 2.72 million and for MSNBC, 1.01 million.
Comparing October and October, Fox News Channel was the only news network to score gains -- up 5 percent. CNN was down 37 percent and MSNBC plunged 55 percent compared with last October, when the big story was the post-9/11 fighting in Afghanistan.
CBS yesterday gave full-season orders to four freshman series: "CSI: Miami," "Still Standing," "Without a Trace" and "Hack."
"CSI: Miami," the network's Monday 10 p.m. "CSI" spinoff, is the most watched new series of this TV season, averaging 19.5 million viewers.
"Still Standing," in the plush post- "Everybody Loves Raymond" time slot, is at press time the most watched new sitcom of the season, with an average of more than 16 million viewers. "Still Standing" and NBC's "Good Morning, Miami" had been swapping weeks holding that title until last week, when the "GMM" ratings plunged to a lousy 12 million because its "Will & Grace" lead-in was a rerun.
"Without a Trace" is the second most watched new drama of the season, behind "CSI: Miami." But it airs in the cushy post-"CSI" Thursday slot, where last week, for example, it fumbled more than 9 million "CSI" viewers. Still, it's producing about 50 percent more viewers on Thursdays at 10 than had "The Agency" last season. Plus, it's produced by "CSI" executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer, which may have something to do with the pickup.
"Hack," CBS's new Friday drama series, is not setting records, but it has improved CBS's fortunes that night at 9 by nearly 60 percent compared with last season.
NBC has picked up a full-season order on "Good Morning, Miami." In making the announcement, the network simply tossed out last Thursday's stats, except to note that when "GMM" scored its lousy 12 million viewers last week, it retained 84 percent of the "Will & Grace" rerun's lousy 14 million viewers -- which is "GMM's" best retention rate so far this season.