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Barbara Amiel wears a Chanel scarf leaving court last week, a detail much remarked upon in media coverage of the latest adventures of Conrad Black. (John Gress/Reuters/John Gress/Reuters)
Barbara Amiel wears a Chanel scarf leaving court last week, a detail much remarked upon in media coverage of the latest adventures of Conrad Black. (John Gress/Reuters/John Gress/Reuters)

John Doyle: Television

Summer's hottest TV drama: Conrad Black Add to ...

Oh Lordy, Conrad Black is back.

At lunchtime on Friday, on CTV News Channel, Dan Matheson burst out laughing. He'd just been talking to Paula Todd, who was outside the Chicago courtroom where Black was expected to turn up any minute. He'd asked Todd about the international media presence there. Todd explained that there were a lot of reporters from the United Kingdom who, she said, seemed to expect Black to turn up in London soon, back at the centre of high society.

That's when Matheson laughed.

Over on CBC NN, just before that, there had been footage of reporters ambushing Black for comment when he'd arrived in Chicago the night before. Amanda Lang and somebody else were shouting questions. Black responded, with that familiar demeanour - the subtle physical awkwardness of the large frame and the vaguely amused but blank gaze of the easily bored man.

He didn't say much of anything beyond mentioning a "war" between the U.S. government and himself, before being pulled away by Barbara Amiel. When he spoke to Lang, he addressed her unnervingly as "Amanda."

Late last year, Lang put this on Twitter: "Definition of a mixed blessing: a compliment from John Doyle." Perhaps she should adjust that now to "Definition of a mixed blessing: when Conrad Black knows your name."

Meanwhile, back on CTV, Todd talked to a top Chicago lawyer, who attempted unsuccessfully to disentangle the charges on which Black was convicted and what might happen next. Todd smiled broadly, came close to laughter and told Matheson, "This could go on for the rest of all of our lives!"

Indeedy. This summer's surprise hit TV drama is The Conrad Black Story.

There's mystery. Where will he go now? Can you renounce your Canadian citizenship in a fit of pique and then seek refuge here? Isn't that the sort of namby-pamby Canada Black would subject to thundering denunciations?

There's human drama. Those immediate, post-released-from-jail images of a figure in the shaded SUV in rumpled sweatpants and a T-shirt. Whether you find that poignant is up to you.

There's the potential for comedy too. But you'll have to find that yourself.

What's unclear, so far, is whether Canadian TV news - and the Canadian media in general - has lost its instinctive deferential attitude toward Black. There are reasons for that long history of deference. He was, after all, a media magnate; it's a small media world in Canada. He was also known to be litigious: There was a sense of genuine fear that he'd sue over something he simply didn't like. Mind you, if there was less deference, perhaps the extraordinary state of Black's finances would have become clear a long time ago.

For now, on TV anyway, these twists in the Black saga have made it our equivalent of some tawdry Hollywood train-wreck story. Lindsay Lohan can only observe in awe. On Friday, viewers were treated to bits of information about the amount of luggage Black and Amiel had taken to Chicago. Also, that Black's suit looked rumpled and that Amiel was wearing a Chanel scarf to court. And, finally, as Todd reported about the interaction between Black and Amiel, "We think that at one point he may have kissed her."

We've had only one TV drama about Black - the 2006 movie Shades of Black, which presented the man as crusty but lovable. Yes, crusty but lovable, like the wacky neighbour on some awful CBS sitcom. It simply did not do the man or the saga justice, although Lara Flynn Boyle's turn as Amiel, a smouldering temptress and shopaholic, made it memorable.

The truth is, I suppose, that the tangled, shifting saga now playing out on the news is more compelling that any TV movie or miniseries about Black could ever be. Without any script writer, it's broad, satiric and skin-crawlingly weird. Thankfully, it will go on and on.

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Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle


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