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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Sunday 9th May 2004

The Worst Earthquake I've Ever Seen--On Television

The residents of Los Angeles received a nasty shock last week when a new mini-series broadcast on NBC ended with the destruction of their city in a massive earthquake. Called 10.5--the magnitude of the imaginary quake--it attracted the best ratings of any show in the past two years.

In the drama, California is rocked by a series of earthquakes, culminating in a tremblor that causes the Pacific Ocean to rise up and bury LA. The killer quake is 8,000 times more powerful than the 1994 earthquake that was responsible for an estimated $40 billion worth of damage in the Los Angeles area. Needless to say, 10.5 has not gone down well with local residents.

"I'm underwhelmed by the series," said Darrel Young, California's top geological official. "It's entertaining to a fault, but it perpetuates myths about earthquakes."

The experts were particularly scathing about a plot twist in episode four whereby a maverick scientist detonates five nuclear warheads in the San Andreas Fault in an attempt to "fuse" it back together.

"The production is blatantly inconsistent with everything we know about earthquakes," seismologist Lucy Jones told the Los Angeles Times. "It's complete science fantasy."

The executive producer of the series, Howard Braunstein, acknowledged that the programme's makers hadn't felt constrained by the need to get their facts right. Asked whether they had consulted scientists about the project, he responded: "Not really. We went on the Internet for backup research."

Angelinos may have been irritated by the drama, but 10.5 went down extremely well in the rest of the country.

"10.5 is every West Coaster's worst nightmare," joked Jeff Zucker, the President of NBC. "But it's every Easterner's dream."

Jags Replaced by Priuses

If John Prescott had spent any time in Hollywood, he'd welcome the Government's decision to replace its official Jaguars with Toyota Priuses. Out here, the battery-powered hybrids are considerably more fashionable than the stately British saloons.

Last week, I went to the house of an up-and-coming young actress to take her out to lunch and noticed two cars parked in her driveway: a brand new X-type Jag and a Toyota Prius. As we were leaving, I nodded in the direction of the Jag and said, "Nice car."

"That belongs to my cleaning lady," she said. "I drive the Prius."

A little research revealed that the funny-looking electric car has become the latest Hollywood status symbol. Harrison Ford, Cameron Diaz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Charlize Theron all drive Priuses, while almost the only people who drive Jaguars are Latinos. Indeed, according to an article in this week's Economist, over half the customers of the Latino-owned Jaguar dealership in Riverside are Hispanics.

I'm now seriously considering buying a Prius myself when I get back to London. It's not their environmental friendliness that impresses me so much as the fact that they do 100 miles to the gallon and are exempt from the Congestion Charge.

Van Helsing

Friday's release of Van Helsing, an old-fashioned creature feature from the director of The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, heralds the beginning of Summer blockbuster season over here. Next week sees the release of Troy, Brad Pitt's $170 million sword-and-sandals epic, followed by Shrek 2, The Day After Tomorrow, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, The Chronicles of Riddick, Spiderman 2, King Arthur, Catwoman and Alien v Predator.

In Hollywood, the guessing game has already begun as to which blockbuster is going to be this Summer's Hulk, one of the biggest bombs of last year. My money's on Around the World in 80 Days--arriving in cinemas on June 16--not least because it stars Steve Coogan as Philias Fogg. He may be a gifted comedian, but Disney is taking a huge gamble by casting a relative unknown in the lead. The 1956 version starred David Niven.

The one most likely to succeed, by contrast, is I, Robot, a sci-fi action thriller starring Will Smith. Judging from the trailer, I, Robot looks absolutely fantastic. If I had to confine myself to one movie this Summer, that would be it.

The Real Beverly Hillbillies

Two years ago, CBS announced that it was developing a reality show called The Real Beverly Hillbillies in which a family of dirt-poor farmers would be transplanted from the Deep South to live in Hollywood. However, after attracting a barrage of criticism, the show was quietly shelved. The problem, as far as the critics were concerned, was that CBS would be inviting viewers to laugh at poor people.

The solution, it seems to me, is to make the family at the centre of the show British. After all, American have no qualms about laughing at their former colonial masters. My wife and I are continually exposing our ignorance of the ways of Hollywood, much to the amusement of our neighbours.

For instance, we recently hired a Guatemalan child-minder to look after our nine-month-old daughter for two days a week. Since then I've been bending over backwards to make a good impression, taking the baby out for walks, putting her to bed in the evening, etc.

Alas, this doesn't seem to be having the desired effect. The more I try and convince the child-minder I'm a conscientious father, the more disdainful she becomes. It was only after talking to a 15-year Hollywood veteran--and a father-of-two--that I realised my mistake.

"In Guatemala, it's considered un-masculine for men to help with the baby," he explained. "You won't earn her respect until she sees you putting your feet up, cracking open a can of Bud and watching the game."

Cross Creek Mall

Last weekend, my wife and I paid a visit to the Cross Creek Mall, an upmarket shopping centre in Malibu. In the course of parking my car, I gently nudged a 4x4 with blacked-out windows, at which point a huge, overweight young man leapt out and started taking photographs of his scratched bumper with a telephoto lens.

After I'd managed to calm him down, he explained that the reason he was sitting in his car with a telephoto lens on his lap was because he was a paparazzo. Apparently, the Cross Creek Mall is choc full of celebrities thanks to its proximity to the Malibu Colony.

So now you know. If you want to go star-spotting in Tinseltown, forget about Rodeo Drive and the Sunset Strip. The place to look is the Cross Creek Mall.

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