The Guardian, March 16, 2004
David Soul has spent more than two decades at the receiving end of tabloid vitriol, so perhaps he should not have raised his hopes too high when he was invited to take part in a documentary about his life.
But the former star of the 70s cop show Starsky & Hutch was so incensed by how the Channel 4 programme turned out on Sunday night that he yesterday launched a withering attack on the station.
Soul accused the broadcaster of having “manipulated” his life story to produce sensational television in order to chase ratings.
The former idol, who is back in the global spotlight after the release of a Hollywood movie version of Starsky & Hutch, claimed Channel 4 had “regurgitated” familiar “salacious” episodes such as his problems with drink, his violence to a former wife, and money problems. He also claimed undue emphasis was put on an account he gave to the filmmakers of how as a very young man he came into contact with gay men at Andy Warhol’s Factory studio.
Soul said he agreed to cooperate after being convinced that the intention was to produce a serious film. But he believes the hour-long programme, He’s Starsky, I’m Hutch, was driven downmarket following the intervention of Channel 4 bosses.
Soul’s stinging criticisms came in a letter sent to Channel 4 and released to the Guardian. He wrote:
I am hugely disappointed with the tone of this tabloid bullshit … This, dare I call it a documentary, panders to preconceptions you [Channel 4] must think a British television audience has about Hollywood.
Soul has not been afraid to take on the media in the past, once winning damages from the Daily Mirror after a columnist described a play he starred in as the worst he had seen, though the critic had not attended.
In his letter to Channel 4 the actor claimed:
You had an opportunity to say something to entertain and enlighten your audience and you chose to pander.
What is basically regurgitated here is the tragic story of a ‘hero’ who is destroyed by personal failings in the face of adversity, a pathetic story of a man who had everything and ‘threw it all away.’ How bleeding original.
Soul claimed “glaring omissions” were made about his personal history, which has included time spent campaigning for social justice and political change. He added:
There’s so much more to me. There is so much more to life.
Channel 4 denied that the film, made by production company Monkey, had sensationalised or manipulated Soul’s story. Commissioning editor Andrew MacKenzie said Monkey had “worked to the highest journalistic standards and produced a very sympathetic, fair and balanced film about David Soul based on many hours of filming with him.”
PLEASE NOTE: DSF will never include this tabloid documentary in the DSF Video Gallery. To provide fans the opportunity to read for themselves what David wrote to Channel 4, below is the complete text of his letter:
An open letter from David Soul, March 15, 2004:
Dear Channel Four,
I am really troubled.
When the promised afternoon delivery of the pre-dub version of He’s Starsky, I’m Hutch (sent over for my comments prior to Sunday night’s 9:00 PM emission) finally turned up Saturday night at 11:00, I sort of got an inkling of what was to come. The show airs tomorrow night, I thought. They’re up against it now, they’ve run out of time… and so have I. So what’s the point of my looking at it?”
But having been involved in the preparation of the program and actively participated in it since mid-January, I’d certainly earned my right to at least look at it prior to airing. So I slapped the tape in and when it finished, I called the exhausted producer about 12:45AM to give her my reaction. Poor girl, she’d been in with your editor (the director’s editor had been taken off the project) for the past 16 hours, gritting her teeth, and she was shattered. What was I going to say to her at a quarter of one? Contractually, though I had the right to view a pre-dub and make my comments, your people would have final approval.
Any window of opportunity I might have had to suggest changes that might have lifted the tabloid tone off this painfully derivative, tragic; chronologically flawed and therefore, factually manipulated tale I’d just viewed, had gone.
“Gee, sorry Dave, there just isn’t time,” was about the best I could expect. Of course there wouldn’t be time and besides, editorially, your people already had the story you wanted… a real juicy audience grabber, I’m sure… though most of your story is more than 20 years old and has been repeated so many times in the tabloid press, I’ve almost forgotten what really happened. What is basically regurgitated in the program is the tragic story of a ‘hero’ who is destroyed by personal failings in the face of incredible success… a pathetic story of a man who had everything and “threw it all away.” How bleeding original. “At the height of his fame, it’s a story of rage, alcohol and womanizing…” Despite a couple of righteous truths within the documentary, which I faced years ago, the approach taken by the program is made the more salacious by material selectively culled from no less than 35 hours of footage… the stamp of audience approval by Channel 4 Documentaries, no doubt. It’s everything I deplore.
“But hey, Dave, look on the bright side. There’s nothing salacious about great ratings, is there? And besides, we all love you, Dave… as much as we love tearing down all our celebrities. Hey, Dave, welcome to England!”
Unfortunately, ratings is what this show was geared to generate. And Channel 4 wanted to ride on the coat tails of all that PR heat generated by me and Paul and Ben and Owen about the new Starsky & Hutch movie. (By the way, your PR people never bothered to contact me personally about any of the PR for this program. You slipped-streamed in behind Buena Vista, the distributors of the S&H film. Highly unprofessional.)
Who cares that many of the Voice Over links are sensationalized or outright fabrications or that the editing is fragmented and that glaring omissions are made? Who cares that I grew up in Berlin from two weeks after the Berlin Airlift until 1956? Who cares that out of a forty-year career, S&H takes up only four of them? Who cares that Paul and I are best friends? Who cares that of the 800 hours of film and TV I’ve done since 1966, only 92 of them are S&H? Who cares that my 86- and 83-year-old parents, two of the gentlest and kindest servants of mankind, who’ve been married 62 years, are selectively and embarrassingly used as stooges in the program? Who cares that there’s more to life than sex, drugs, cars and money… or lost fortunes? Who cares that I stood against the Viet Nam War? Who cares that the investment I made into making documentaries and investigating important social issues of the 80s (issues which are haunting us again in 2004) was because I believed in what I was doing?
Who cares that I was involved in one of the biggest economic shakedowns in the history of the United States? That I stood up for my brother, a pastor who was defrocked for his stand on behalf of people who were thrown out of work by the actions of Pittsburgh’s major steel companies and that, after my own arrest for reading from the Bible on a public sidewalk in front of the richest church on the eastern seaboard, I sued the City of Pittsburgh for $50,000,000 for violating my civil rights? Who cares that I spent $100,000 fighting the case to the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court? I didn’t ‘throw’ the money away as you suggest! I believed then… and I still do! Who cares that I am ‘rich’ with six beautiful children and have a wonderful relationship with at least three out of four of my ex-wives? Who cares that I have starred in six television series and directed 20 hours of film, television and documentaries? Who cares that I have starred in two West End shows, produced, directed and starred in another, toured the U.K. twice, developed a new multi-media concept for the theatre and worked on two Martin Bell parliamentary campaigns? Who cares that I am spokesman for the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) as well as for GOAL, a Dublin-based charity devoted to the cause of world hunger or am involved in the Italian-based ‘Bambini en Emergenza” dealing with issues of HIV in both Romania and Nairobi and will be working with the Elizabeth Glaser Foundation and am planning a major 1 December event in Rome to mark International Aids Day? Certainly NOT Channel 4. It’s not in your remit to document that kind of drivel.
The point is this: After all the cooperation I’ve given this project and all of the people I put production in touch with (people whose interviews were cancelled or don’t appear in the documentary), all the photos and other information and music I made available and the professional commitment I gave during the shoot… I am hugely disappointed with the tone of this tabloid bullshit. My worst fears have been realized.
This, dare I call it a documentary, panders to preconceptions you must think a British television audience has about Hollywood. And these preconceptions are supported mainly through an insipid Voice Over that is filled with inaccuracies; the selective use of visuals (including pointless ‘slo mo’ and a shot of a young man’s bare breast, for example, to illustrate a ‘rent boy’… which I was NOT) and interviews with people who love me and who, despite their trepidations about appearing on camera, were brave enough to look into themselves and talk honestly about David Soul. Their words and your placement of their words, however, were selected to fulfill a pre-ordained agenda, to paint ol’ Dave as a tragic, beaten, alcoholic. You took the obviously pandering, sensational line that comes right out of the tabloids… just to get the numbers.
But all of these comments are moot. The show just went out as edited. What really troubles me is that Channel 4 had an opportunity to say something to entertain and enlighten its audience and you chose to pander. I don’t know what the reaction was or what the ratings figures were, but as a willing participant, I feel I have been betrayed. I was stupid enough listen to and believe… as I have so many times in the past, those who forget their promises or give vacant assurances. Still, my willingness to be a part of the creative process I suppose, gives testimony to my good will, my honesty as well as to my gullability and certainly, my insecurities. Why don’t you just leave your creative people alone to do their thing?
There is very little joy in this piece… and no sense of new beginnings. And, like most history these days, event has been compressed… wrapped up in a tight, neat package. But I have survived for nearly 40 years! I grew up BEFORE the days of television. You’ve taken a compressed view of my life and turned it into a program essentially about a man who crumbled in the face of adversity and has “thrown it all away.” Most painful is that Channel 4 chose not to give the audience a chance to experience the arc in any other light except the shadow cast by ratings… and that’s too bad. There’s so much more to me. There is so much more to life.
I just want to say one more thing: My best years are still ahead and I will hold my head high. As I’ve always maintained, success or failure are not ends in themselves. Rather it’s the opportunities provided by both that are important. In the case of He’s Starsky, I’m Hutch, I sure as hell wish Channel 4 understood that simple human concept because people need to hear it.