In 1994, three asteroid fragments collide with the Earth’s northern hemisphere, one in France, one in a sparsely-populated area of northern China, and another in an isolated region of Wyoming. A little girl is found by a news crew near the Wyoming impact site, and a man who was on a skiing vacation is recovered from a mountain near the crater in France. Both of them try to say something, but in both cases their words emerge as an incomprehensible string of seemingly random syllables. Within hours, from each impact site, a powerful radio signal is transmitted by an unknown source, jamming all air traffic, satellite communications and ground-based radio signals along the 45th parallel. As the world tries to take in the meaning of these events, a second asteroid is detected on a collision course with Earth. The Air Force launches two F-16 fighter jets to intercept the incoming asteroid with nuclear weapons, and though the mission is a success, the two planes mysteriously vanish. The population of a small town near the Wyoming crater disappears without warning, and the radio signals from the three impact sites cease. Concerned members of the scientific community, some of them defying orders from the White House and the Pentagon, offer the possibility that the geometric precision of the impact sites are a hint that the asteroids were, in fact, launched by an extraterrestrial intelligence. Three new asteroids are detected, aimed with equal precision at Washington, Beijing and Moscow – the capitols of the three Earth powers with nuclear capability. The two survivors of the initial impacts suddenly die, just before analysis of their disjointed words reveals a deadly secret. Another nuclear counterstrike is launched by the military, and the three asteroids are destroyed before they can make contact with their targets – but that action only seals the doom of the entire human race.
teleplay by Peter Lance
story by Jeremy Thorn & Walon Green and Peter Lance
directed by Robert Iscove
music by Craig Safan
Cast: Sander Vanocur (Sander Vanocur), Jane Maczmarek (Dr. Caroline Jaffe), Bree Walker Lampley (Bree Walker), Dwier Brown (Matt Jensen), Brian MacNamara (Mike Curtis), James Morrison (Paul Whitaker), Ashley Peldon (Kimberly Hastings), James Handy (Dr. Norbert Hazelton), Kario Salem (Dr. Avram Mandel), Spencer Garrett (Paul Collingwood), Gina Hecht (Barbara Shiller), John de Lancie (Barry Steinbrenner), Patty Toy (Denise Wong), Dennis Lipscomb (Dr. Richard Pearson), Ron Canada (Terrance Freeman), Victor Wilson (Mark Manetti), Phillip Baker Hall (Dr. Kurt Lowden), Jim Pirri (Robert Marino), Alan Scarfe (General Lucian Alexander), Cynthia Allison (Cynthia Allison), Ernie Anastos (Ernie Anastos), Arthur C. Clarke (Arthur C. Clarke), Sandy Hill (Sandy Hill), Michelle Holden (Michelle Holden), Mario Machado (Mario Machado), Warren Olney (Warren Olney), Saida Pagan (Saida Pagan), Richard Saxton (Richard Saxton), Debra Snell (Debra Snell), Randy Crowder (Deputy Anson Peters), Diana Frank (Sylvie Chounard), Marnie McPhail (Donna Hastings), Sherri Paysinger (Pamela Barnes), Robert Peters (Dwayne Haskell), Lou Beatty Jr. (Dr. Jonas Tremblay), Frank Bruynbroek (French Skier), John de Mita (Major Powers), Tyler Cole Malinger (Tyler O’Neal), Marnie Mosiman (Annie O’Neal), Armand Schultz (David Case)
Notes: There are many slight errors which were probably intended to be deliberate clues to the viewer that this was not an actual newscast. For one thing, naturally, the coverage came from a news-gathering organization which no one has ever seen before (though CBS caught much flak for using its own standard news graphics, thus causing some of that genuine confusion and concern that made this movie so much fun!). Numerous actor cameos in the roles of reporters and others are a dead giveaway, particularly the ever recognizable John de Lancie. The “news coverage” is also too smooth by far – there seem to be live audio and video feeds from nearly everywhere the unnamed news network needs to be. How convenient! And absolutely impossible, too! The “interference” which peppers the screen often is actually the faded-in image of out-of-whack tape tracking on a broadcast grade VTR. Without Warning avoided a pitfall to which Countdown To Looking Glass fell prey – stepping out of character to show what was going on behind the scenes. The entire program maintained its constant “newscast” front for two hours in real time, with the singular exception of, at the very end, a shot of…well, that would be telling.
LogBook entry and review by Earl Green
Review: One of the scariest things any of the networks has ever allowed on American television, I really have to congratulate CBS for this 1994 Halloween treat. I’ve always dearly loved the TV movie sub-genre of the fake newscast, especially scary ones, the best examples of which are Without Warning and an early 80s nuclear war chiller, Countdown To Looking Glass (another favorite of mine). And was it ever effective! The Fort Smith, Arkansas CBS affiliate reported fielding dozens of calls from people concerned about the “news” of the onslaught of asteroids, and the other stations in the area were deluged with complaints that ABC, Fox and NBC were doing nothing to cover the same story! If it had that effect on a small and not entirely modern city in the lower midwest, you can be sure that Without Warning scared the living hell out of larger population centers – especially those which were mentioned as targets in the course of the movie!
This opens up whole new areas of discussion. Is it irresponsible for members of the news media to take part in such a program? Possibly. In fact, CNN recently placed a moratorium on any of its anchors or reporters appearing in fictional films, as themselves or otherwise. But the panic created by this movie is an interesting sociological study. Is anyone paying attention? Paying attention to the fact that they’re seeing an “Evening World News” broadcast, even though CBS has no such broadcast? Paying attention to the fact that the other networks have somehow missed out on reporting this incredible event? Missed out on the bumpers going into and coming out of every commercial break announcing that this is a movie and not a news broadcast? Yes, someone is sure to complain, anytime that this kind of faked newscast pops up, that it’s a horribly irresponsible thing to do. But each time, whether we’re talking about Orson Welles or Without Warning, the public’s response to the perceived crisis is interesting. Is it good that people were worried… or is it more frightening that so many were taken in so completely?