'48 Hours' goes over the top with show on Brame tragedy

Television: CBS-TV chooses melodramatic approach

September 27, 2003 

CBS-TV's "48 Hours" focuses its lens on the Brame homicide-suicide tonight, and all you need to know about the quality of the program is its gumshoe title, "Tacoma Confidential."

Viewers first are treated to bucolic footage of Gig Harbor, which is proclaimed in Rockwellian splendor as a wonderful place to live. A gull is captured in flight. Then, minutes later, that peaceful gull is replaced by a menacing crow, and the "seamy" side of the South Sound is revealed.

Can you say over-the-top melodrama?

Locals know the tragic story of Tacoma police chief David Brame, who shot his wife and then turned the gun on himself on April 26. And locals also know that it's more complex than a good-versus-evil saga. The shootings' fallout has been widely reported in the regional media, as well. It includes details about the Tacoma City Council's subsequent termination of City Manager Ray Corpuz and the multimillion-dollar claim that Crystal Brame's family has filed against the city.

Now, those sordid details will receive their first substantial treatment on national television tonight at 8 on Channel 7.

South Sound viewers will learn nothing new. The News Tribune and other media outlets have already reported the "48 Hours" so-called revelations. But it's interesting to see how the case is viewed nationally.

The show opens with that closeup of a gull, painting Gig Harbor as a pristine Northwest paradise, its citizens cheerfully strolling its sidewalks and sailing in the harbor. We learn that there has been a single homicide in this quaint town in the past 60 years.

"Gig Harbor is probably one of the greatest places you could ever live," explains police officer Dave Crocker. "Everyone is just real kind, and rarely do you find a mean, unpleasant person in this town."

Then comes that jarring transition that provides the first taste of the broadcast's greatest flaw: its penchant for reducing horrific tragedy to moments of pretentious melodrama.

"At least that's what people here thought before something terrible happened last April 26," correspondent Bill Lagatutta responds to Crocker's statement as the opening gull is replaced - in a bit of symbolism that's as subtle as a kick in the shins - by crow in mid-flight. The sinister fowl turns up several times, heralding morbid turns in the Brame story as it roosts on building ledges and soars in slow motion.

Early on, viewers meet John Hathaway, a bartender at Lincoln Lanes who publishes the online newsletter, The New Takhoman. His publication initially broke the story of the Brames' impending divorce.

On "48 Hours," Hathaway is presented as the crusading everyman - "part Philip Marlowe, part Sam Spade" - who is determined to fix what's wrong with his embattled hometown.

A few pretentious moments are edited into the Hathaway segments as well. The muckraker already looks something of an anachronism, wearing his trademark fedora. We see him dramatically puffing a cigarette as he types away on his computer keyboard with melancholy film noir jazz playing in the background. (The music may differ tonight, CBS has said.) The Hathaway segments are somewhat surreal, as if the show is alternating between serious journalism and the parody of a bad detective movie.

The program, however, does a capable job of encapsulating familiar details, such as Crystal Brame's allegations in divorce papers that her husband had threatened her, physically abused her and demanded she participate in group sex.

The show also explores Brame's rise to power, in light of his failing psychological exams in the early '80s and allegations that he raped a woman in 1988 and that Corpuz - the sole patsy presented in this broadcast - knew something about it.

The latter generates one of the program's most poignant moments. The 45-year-old woman Brame allegedly raped is shown in silhouette, telling Lagatutta that Brame pushed her onto a bed, made her look at his gun and assaulted her.

"When he was done he started crying and said he was sorry," the woman says, between sobs. "He was the police. ... I didn't know if anyone would listen to me."

During another interview, Lane Judson, Crystal's father, gets choked up as he recalls being told by staff members of Harborview Medical Center that his daughter no longer had brain function.

"They told us we could say our last goodbyes," Judson recalls, his voice strained with emotion. "We said no. We're not gonna say goodbye. We'll just see her around the corner - some day. And we walked out."

Ernest Jasmin: 253-274-7389
ernest.jasmin@mail.tribnet.com


• "48 Hours Investigates: Tacoma Confidential" - an exploration of the David Brame murder-suicide and its fallout - will air at 8 tonight on Channel 7.

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