Colonial Pictures’ recreation of the CBS Newsroom circa November 22, 1963, the day Walter Cronkite broke the news to the nation that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. Courtesy of Colonial Pictures.
The CBS Newsroom is in a frenzy. Phones ring and jangle the metal desks, pencils scribble down notes for the upcoming News Bulletin, chalk flies across the blackboard recording reporters and place, cigarettes are lit, inhaled, and then the smoke is expelled, adding to the frenetic haze, and two clocks tick on the wall – one displaying Eastern Standard Time, the other Central Standard Time.
If it were 1963, in the center of it all would have sat the man, Walter Cronkite, who would break the news to the nation that John F. Kennedy was dead. But this is 2013 and not the CBS Newsroom. Instead, we are in a classroom at the General Society of Mechanics & Tradesmen on West 44th Street. The room has been transformed into a replica of the CBS Newsroom circa Cronkite’s fated words by Colonial Pictures. Headed by writer/producer/director Alastair Layzell, who considers himself lucky to have worked with Cronkite at the end of his career, the reconstruction serves as the set centerpiece for Colonial Pictures’ upcoming film, One PM Central Standard Time.
While there have been many movies and documentaries retelling JFK’s assassination, Layzell hopes that this film will show a different angle that hasn’t been covered ad nauseum before. One PM focuses on the hour and eight minutes after Kennedy was shot in Dallas before the official announcement of his death. In the mayhem, reporters like Cronkite faced tremendous challenges: great confusion and mixed information. No one was quite sure whether the president was alive or how badly he was injured, and no one wanted to go on the record saying JFK had died without concrete information.
Cronkite, thanks to his journalistic gut and acknowledgement that it was (and is) very difficult to take back something reported inaccurately, waited until the deputy press secretary announced the tragic news before alerting the nation. This respect for the sentiments of the American people is one of the many reasons that “America had a love affair with Walter Cronkite,” as Don Hewitt, the late founder of 60 Minutes, said on CBS’s special Cronkite Remembered.
Because this love affair endures for many – especially in the worlds of journalism, politics, and film – Layzell was able to interview a tremendous cast of prominent characters to aid in the making of the film: Dan Rather, Bob Schieffer, Marvin Kalb, Marianne Means, and Bill Clinton to name a few. By casting all of the characters around Cronkite (eight actors in all), Layzell was able to keep Cronkite in the background or slightly blurred except at the end, when the film cuts to footage of the actual New Bulletin.
To see for yourself, tune in to PBS on Wednesday, November 13, at 10 pm.