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March 5, 1998

SILENCING MARY

Barry Garron
The Hollywood Reporter

(NBC) 9 p.m. Sunday

In the amazing world of "Silencing Mary," all football players are lunkheaded thugs and all reporters are able to write what they want, when they want.

That's why the star quarterback at fictional Cornwall University is able to rape with impunity, and that's why intrepid part-time reporter Mary Stuartson (Melissa Joan Hart of "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch") is able to pursue the story with the zeal of Woodward and Bernstein combined.

The lesson here should be that college officials need to take a serious look at how they deal with sexual assaults on campus. Instead, the real lesson is that policies against nepotism should be enforced throughout the TV industry. "Silencing Mary" was produced by Melissa's mother, Paula Hart, and co-produced by her sister, Trisha Hart, a college freshman. You can tell.

In the movie, a Hartbreak film in association with Viacom Prods., Stuartson's roommate (Lisa Dean Ryan of "Doogie Howser, M.D.") is raped at a frat party. When the crime is finally reported, the dean of students (Peter MacNicol with a Southern accent) is only too happy to sweep the affair under the rug. The more Stuartson pursues the story, the more she is intimidated and harassed. Only the team's equipment manager (Corin Nemec in a hand-holding role) and Mary's laissez-faire editor (James McDaniel) offer support.

If there was an Emmy for most talented cast wasted on a poorly executed production, this would be a leading contender. The characters are as deep as rice paper and as meaty as Rice Krispies. The conclusion is so abrupt, it looks as if the last section of Steve Johnson's script was simply lopped off when the film ran long. But who's complaining?

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