Although Out of the Darkness (CBS, Saturday, Oct. 12, 9-11 p.m.) is based upon a series of murders back in 1976-77, the made-for-TV film emerges amazingly as a celebration of life, the best original drama on commercial television so far this year. The violence is handled with discretion as background, while the main story concerns the intertwining private lives of the serial murderer Son of Sam and Ed Zigo, the New York detective who captured him.
Zigo's loss of his wife and his attempt to lead a full life without her contrast poignantly with the empty life of the Son of Sam.
Zigo is played by Martin Sheen, who starred in ``Apocalypse Now,'' and as JFK in the recent ``Kennedy'' miniseries on TV. With the help of a fine script by Tom Cook and skillfully unobtrusive direction by Jud Taylor, he turns what could have been a violent, destructive, and exploitive film into a moving, compelling, and somehow uplifting drama about sensitive people in multileveled relationships.
Both Sheen and Zigo visited the Monitor's New York bureau recently. Why did Sheen, who recently starred in the much-criticized CBS miniseries about the Atlanta murders, decide to do another dramatization of a murder case now?
``I did it because the script projected an entirely different image of what a N.Y.C. detective is like. We always see detectives as fast-drawing, fast-chasing, fast-talking guys on TV and in the movies. But we seldom see their personal lives -- who they are, where they came from, what they stand for.
``This show is the reverse. The Son of Sam business was only the background; it doesn't come into focus until Detective Zigo makes his move to get him. I thought it was an opportunity to show people a guy who risks his life in a very high-risk job, who is also a family man who cares for other people. You seldom see that sort of detective on television.''
Does Sheen feel that police are portrayed unfairly on television? ``The distorted popular image is what you see on `Miami Vice,' with all its flash and trendiness and constant action. But `Hill Street Blues' shows more of the real police life. Most of the time police work is tedious -- stakeouts, dull investigations, talking to people and somehow remaining a human being through it. But, why not ask Ed Zigo himself?''
Zigo, wearing the same style mustache that Sheen wears in the film in which he plays Zigo, indicates that he, too, believes that ``Hill Street Blues'' is the best of the cop series.
``Police are portrayed unfairly on TV a lot of the time. The worst part is the harshness. In order to make the show exciting, they try to make it seem as if detectives are always either shooting at someone or being shot at. This is not often the case. But all they want to show on television is lots of energy being generated. Well, we are human beings . . . fathers, brothers, sisters -- and we have our own problems, too. In `Hill Street Blues' they show how police work is done -- not in its entiret y, of course, but basically it is accurate.''
Both Sheen and Zigo agree that one sequence in the movie, in which Zigo puts a little boy in jeopardy by allowing him to lead the way to a hostage, is inaccurate. ``Ed and I agree he would never have taken that child down the alley. He would have gotten the information from him but never walked him down the alley. It was an error and it was my fault because I should have protested when we were shooting it. I can't figure out where my head was when we were filming that day.'' Zigo nods in agreement.
Is he happy with the finished product?
``Honestly, I can't be objective. I look at it and I just see someone portraying me. But, this I can tell you . . . there are very few distortions.'' The Son of Sam murderer never stood trial. He is now in a mental institution. Detective Zigo recently retired from the police force. He says: ``Sometimes as a cop you have to listen to somebody's problem, and they seem so small and you have a ton of problems of your own and you want to scream out, `Your problems are nothing compared to mine!' But you mu st put your own problems on the back burner and sit and listen with compassion and understanding.
``I feel free of that now -- but I wonder if I'm going to miss the listening.''
Martin Sheen, the man who brings Zigo's character to life on the screen, smiles and nods his head. ``He'll miss it, . . .'' he says, ``he'll miss it.''