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AIRBORNE, ABANDONED AND AFRAID.

Byline: Jay Bobbin Tribune Media Services

It starts out as a trip by happy holiday travelers and ends up as a flight with nowhere to land.

That's the dilemma in ``Pandora's Clock,'' the NBC suspense miniseries based on the best-selling novel by author, pilot and air safety advocate John J. Nance (who also plays the chief of the U.S. Air Force in the drama), which airs Nov. 10 and 11.

Former ``MacGyver'' star Richard Dean Anderson heads the cast as the captain of Flight 66, a New York-bound 747 that leaves Frankfurt, Germany, with a seriously ill passenger aboard. The cause turns out to be a virus lethal enough to kill millions of people within days, so no European airport will let the plane touch down, though a dwindling fuel supply seems destined to bring it out of the skies anyway - if a covert CIA plot to destroy it in midair doesn't take effect first.

Directed by Eric Laneuville, the saga also features Daphne Zuniga (``Melrose Place'') as a virologist trying to solve the crisis from the ground, ``Benson'' star Robert Guillaume playing a dignitary aboard the jet and ``Frasier's'' Jane Leeves as his assistant. Robert Loggia (``Independence Day'') and ``NewsRadio's'' Stephen Root appear as well.

``I had a ball doing it,'' said Anderson, who spent much of his ``Pandora's Clock'' schedule inside a mock-up of an airplane's interior. ``It is claustrophobic, or can be. I'd never done anything like this, but it's all part of the job, basically. I wanted to be a part of the project the minute I read the script, so the trade-off was great. To be trapped in there with Jane Leeves and Jennifer Savidge (``St. Elsewhere'') for 23 shooting days or so wasn't such a bad thing.''

Zuniga embraced the chance to play someone with some of the answers, especially since the part came on the heels of her run as ``Melrose Place's'' often-abused Jo. ``She is an academic, a scientist, a doctor,'' the actress said of her ``Pandora's Clock'' alter ego. ``She loves to think things out, and she's called upon for the first time by the CIA to help solve a problem. She's the only one who knows, really, how serious it is. The problem is that once (that information) gets into certain people's hands, they do what they want with it.''

Author Nance explains that his inspiration for writing ``Pandora's Clock'' was his conversation with a scientist on a 1992 Miami-to-Seattle flight: ``She started telling me about this thing called the Ebola Zaire virus, and I knew nothing about it. I made some notes, and about six months later, I was still looking for a subject to write about.

``I wanted to do what (fellow author Ernest) Gann did with `The High and the Mighty,' where until the airplane came to a rest, the story couldn't come to a rest. The virus, all of a sudden, popped in perfectly: to have an airplane full of people nobody wants, and they're suspended until the end of the story.''

Zuniga maintains that she was grateful not to have to do the same sort of ``Pandora's Clock'' preparation that was required by her doctor role in the 1989 movie ``Gross Anatomy.''

``I passed out in the lab that we were doing research in. This was not about being a doctor, but about this incredible puzzle and the urgency,'' she explained. ``This story takes place over 48 hours, so (the appeal was in) the suspense and the action. It's a dangerous, potentially horrible situation, but it was fun (to play).

``This character is based on a doctor who, thanks to John (Nance), I got to speak with,'' Zuniga continued. ``He has an intellect and a search for truth and information that does not stop. He worked for the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and the Air Force, and the commitment of this guy -who doesn't go home from the office - is all because of his commitment to public health and people. To have your problem involve people you don't know, and the catastrophe that (this situation) could be, was a really interesting challenge for me.''

Apart from the lighter side of making the miniseries, writer Nance believes ``This will happen someday. As `Hot Zone' author Richard Preston said - and I know it to be true - we are going to have an Ebola virus, or something similar that's a Level 4, get out of (its originating) country and go somewhere by commercial airline. The problem is that we're not ready, and no country in the world really knows how to handle this.''

Pandora's Clock

When: 9 p.m. Nov. 10 and 11

Network: NBC

Starring: Richard Dean Anderson, Robert Guillaume, Jane Leeves, Robert Loggia, Daphne Zuniga, Stephen Root, Jessica Savidge

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos

Photo: (1--Cover--Color) `PANDORA'S CLOCK'

is ticking

Flight 66's dilemma: a deadly virus, nowhere to land

(2) Stephen Root, left, Robert Loggia and Daphne Zuniga play the government professionals dealing with a virus-infected airplane.
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

 
Article Details
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Title Annotation:TV BOOK
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 10, 1996
Words:831
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