The town of San Paulo, California is in the midst of one of its worst heat waves. To make matters worse, water filtration engineer Bob Miller (Adam Arkin) has the daunting task of working with the city's antiquated, 50 year-old water system.

At home, he finds comfort in his wife Susan (Joely Fisher), a nurse at the local hospital, and their two small children, Bobby Jr. and Amelia.

When several senior citizens suffer from what appears to be food poisoning, they are taken to Susan's hospital for testing. The symptoms are slightly similar to an incident of Cryptosporidiarn strawberry contamination eight years earlier, when she had treated some of those patients. However, this time it seems different. Actually, it's much worse. Other area hospitals begin to report a growing number of cases of the mysterious illness.

Bob has a hunch that proves to be alarmingly true. The city's water supply is contaminated. Bob fights local health authorities for the right to test the water supply. With the help of Dr. David Carver (Giancarlo Esposito), Bob concludes from lab tests that the water faucets in every home, school and office building are tainted with a deadly new strain of an old germ called Cryptosporidiam C. Once ingested, the virus deprives the body of fluids, ultimately killing people from thirst. In order to rid itself of the parasite, the body must be flushed with clean water but ironically, there is no clean water because of the parasite.

The hospitals are suddenly full to capacity. Townspeople are hostile, answers are insufficient and, to top it off, the heat wave has not relented. One source of the problem is the self-serving Mayor who has diverted funding earmarked for the new filtration system to another project. Although reluctant to cut off the existing water supply, he eventually complies. With the growing number of infections and deaths, it is a race against time to pinpoint the source of the epidemic.

When Bobby, Jr. shows signs of the illness, Bob's crusade grows stronger than ever to find the solution that will save his community and, more importantly, his family from this mysterious killer.

People in droves try to leave town, but the city is quarantined and roads have been barricaded by the National Guard to confine the epidemic. Gridlock leads to chaos and riots in the streets. With no water, no answers and no hope ... can anyone escape the THIRST?

This thriller, a two hour NBC world premiere movie, stars Emmy Award nominee Adam Arkin (Dr. Aaron Shutt in "Chicago Hope")and Golden Globe nominee Joely Fisher ("Ellen"). Giancarlo Esposito ("Do the Right Thing") also stars.

Thirst is produced by Citadel Entertainment, LLC, a division of Alliance Atlantis Communications Inc., in association with The Kaufman Company. Bill Norton directs and Paul A. Kaufman is executive producer. Alliance Atlantis will distribute worldwide except in the United States.


Although loosely based on actual events that occurred in Phoenix, Arizona and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Thirst is a cautionary science fiction tale.

The project started in 1996 when Executive Producer Paul A. Kaufman had an idea to do a story about a deadly parasite growing in the water system. "We took it to NBC as a miniseries and they liked our concept, which, incidentally, was quite different from our completed story line," says Kaufman. "Our original script had an 'Alien' feel to it, but we decided to present a more reality based version, making the parasite a microbe."

According to Adam Arkin who portrays Bob Miller, Thirst is a story about how a family deals with a disaster where the primary element of that disaster is something we take for granted everyday - our drinking water.

"Something so simple as water can turn a city upside down," says Arkin. "Our city of 300,000 people has to be quarantined, water is rationed and we're in the middle of an awful heat wave. How much worse could it get? Thirst is not a true story (although there are some elements of truth), but after viewing it, everyone in America should be asking themselves, 'How clean is our drinking water? There was a 1993 incident in Milwaukee where more than 300,000 people were affected by a parasite in the water and at least twelve deaths were attributed to it. Maybe this movie will bring out that many water plants need to be updated and renovated to make drinking water safer."

Arkin and Giancarlo Esposito were schoolmates when they were 11 years-old. This is also the second time that Arkin has worked with Esposito. Arkin previously directed an episode of "Chicago Hope" in which Esposito starred. "Giancarlo brings credibility and integrity on an emotional level to the character of Dr. Carver," says Arkin. Some of the scenes we have together are technical, but Giancarlo adds a touch of humanity to them. And I'm also lucky enough to be working with Joely Fisher, who plays my wife. My real life girlfriend Phyllis Lyons auditioned for a role and got the part although I didn't help her get it. She portrays Joely's best friend who, unfortunately, loses a child to the epidemic."

Esposito, who was added to the cast of the Emmy Award winning drama "Homicide," was nostranger to strange viruses. "I travel out of the country often and I'm very familiar with different parasites that can get into the body," says Esposito. "I went to India a few years ago and contracted a parasite that took me six months to get rid of and I didn't even know what it was. There was a scare some time ago in California that had to do with bad water and its effect on pregnant women. The authorities were saying, 'Don't drink the tap water.' I think we're going to have problems because most of our water treatment plants are old. The equipment will eventually wear out and start breaking down at the same time. The more information we have about our water, the better off we'll be in terms of protecting ourselves and our families."

Esposito felt at home working with Arkin. "He's our 'everyman,' and I think people watching will be able to relate to him because he's a guy who's right in the mix and not afraid to get his hands dirty."

Joely Fisher, from the comedy show "Ellen,"didn't find the reality of Thirst soamusing. "When I first looked at the script I thought, 'Oh, this can't possibly happen,"' says Fisher. "And then, after a few conversations with producer Paul A. Kaufman, Adam and Giancarlo, I found out that something similar to this did happen. And it's really terrifying. I think it's important to pay attention to the things you put into your bodies, and it's not just about water."

Locations for Thirst included a number of diverse areas in Southern California. Sylmar in the San Fernando Valley was the site of the Miller house. The Mayor's and Governor's offices were filmed at Pasadena's City Hall. According to Ivan Schwarz, who served as location manager, it was the first time in 15 years that the city of Pasadena allowed filming in the council chambers and the Mayor's office. Long Beach's Woodruff Community Hospital was the site of Susan's hospital, where the frenzied townspeople converged. The Joseph Jensen Filtration Plant in Granada Hills (used as the county lab and the county health office and, ironically, known for supplying the cleanest water in America) and the FW Weymouth Filtration Plant in La Verne are both working water treatment facilities. Various other locations included a park in Mar Vista to shoot the swimming pool and recreation scenes, and the Playa Del Rey Hughes Plant to shoot the roadblock scene.

Thirst is a scifi thriller, but the reality is that it is in tune with everyday life. Something like this could actually happen ... or has it already started?

Thirst is produced by Citadel Entertainment, LLC, an Alliance Atlantis Communications Inc. company in association with The Kaufman Company. Bill Norton directs and Paul A. Kaufman is executive producer. Alliance Atlantis will distribute worldwide except in the United States.



Thirst Television Review
by Ray Richmond
October 23 1998

Filmed in Los Angeles by Citadel Entertaimnent LLC in association with The Kaufman Co. Executive Producer, Paul A. Kaufman; Producer, Anthony Santa Croce; Director, Bill Norton; Writer, John Mandel; Story, Mandel & Kaufman, Production designer, Dan Lomino; Camera, Paul Maibaum; Editor Hibah Frisina; Music, Daniel Licht; :Sound Ken Willingham, Ken Segal; casting, Beth Hymson Ayer & Simon Ayer.

Here's an investment tip: buy into bottled water companies today. Their stock is bound to soar and their sales are poised to skyrocket in the wake of this taut vidpic thriller about what happens to a town ravaged by a microscopic (and deadly) parasite contaminating its water supply. What makes the story particularly compelling is that it's not entirely fictional. It could happen here. It's already happened elsewhere. That's why we should all think twice before again visiting the gym water cooler.

Thank you, NBC, for helping spread the parasite paranoia around.

Though the execution borders on the overheated, a la "Outbreak," "Thirst" lays a frightful scenario that feels too convincing. John Mandel's teleplay drives home the point that we're all only a waterborne microbe away from medical and social Armageddon, and Bill Norton's unsubtle direction is marked by ominous lingering shots on brown gunky water that are designed to chill the spine. We have met the enemy, and it is the kitchen tap.

Only on TV can a water filtration engineer become a hero. That's the profession of Adam Arkin's character Bob Miller, a small leap from his Dr. Aaron Shutt character on "Chicago Hope." Miller, a model hubby (to wife Susan, played by Joely Fisher) and daddy (Jimmy Galeota) is the guy who gets the bright idea to test the water supply after people start failing ill with what appears to be food poisoning in their comfy little suburb of San Paulo.

Turns out that the town reservoir is failing to filter out deadly Cryptosporidia bacteria, beasties that burrow into your intestine, cause severe fever and, in extreme cases, death from thirst and dehydration. It's a real problem: 400,000 residents of Milwaukee got sick and six died due to the presence of Cryptosporidia in the water supply. It is also said to have killed 39 people in Las Vegas in 1994.

The announcement of the infestation (by a strain that is immune even to boiling) sets off panic buying, a town quarantine, overrun hospitals and, finally, rioting, it doesn't help that there's a record summertime heat wave.

Too much of "Thirst" is driven by backroom political theatrics you know, the vein-popping-in- the-neck power trips and melodramatic pronouncements like, "Get that stuff out of my water!" But Arkin gives his usual solid performance, he has effective chemistry with Fisher and Giancarlo Esposito supplies sharp support as a doctor pulling out all the stops to find an answer.

The subject matter alone, however, is sufficient to maintain interest. All scribe Mandel had to do was not screw up the premise and make it too preposterous, and he doesn't. The result is, instead, wholly unsettling. Old warning: when in Mexico, don't drink the water. New warning: When in America...

Tech credits are first rate.


Thirst is a fictional look at stopping a menacing outbreak in a water system.

October 25, 1998

Maybe we've spent too much time worrying about asteroids and dinosaurs and other large and distant objects.

Instead, we could worry about tiny droplets. We could consider the possibility of an outbreak linked to the water system.

This is going to happen in a major city, unless we do something," says Giancarlo Esposito, who costars in "Thirst," at 9 tonight on NBC.

It already has happened on a smaller scale NBC says.

We didn't even discover cryptosporidium. until 1976 and didn't link it to human waterborne disease until 1987. Since then, NBC says, this has been seen as the cause of crises in:

Milwaukee, where 400,000 people were sick and six died in spring 1993.

Las Vegas., where 39 people died in 1994.

New York City has reported more than 400 cases of cryptosporidiosis since '94. Southern California's massive Metropolitan Water District has launched a 200 million prevention effort.

Now NBC tries to turn that into a movie thriller.

Thirst" has Adanm Arkin and Joely Fisher as a husband-wife duo a water filtration engineer and a nurse trying to prevent a disaster. Esposito is the doctor they work with.

This is high-pressure acting, done by people who have spent their lives in the business.

Arkin is the son of comedy actor Alan Arkin. He first showed up in a short directed by his dad, playing a little kid who turns into an animal.

Fisher is the daughter of singer Eddie Fisher and actress Connie Stevens. After years of comedy and music, she turns serious in "Thirst."

Then there's Esposito, whose roots are farflung. His mother (a black opera singer) met his father in Italy. Giancarlo grew up in Europe and the United States, with one constant: "I was always looked at as someone who seemed a little different."

That can be uncomfortable for a kid and great for an actor. Many of the best actors are perpetual outsiders, viewing life from outside the core,

"I was telling that to ('Homicide' producer) Tom Fontana," Esposito says. "You can't tell a writer anything; it all ends up there."

Fontana says it all happened peacefully enough.

"I've known (Esposito) many years and we've worked together once or twice," Fontana says.

"I called up ... We had a couple of conversations about what kind of thing he might want to play."

Esposito's real-life story blended neatly into part of the "Homicide" setup: The show had always said that Al Giardelloo (played by Yaphet Kotto) is part-Italian.

That was a neatly off-center notion, Esposito grants. "He is so African-looking, you would not think of him as Italian. It was brilliant."

Now Esposito can play Giardello's long-estranged son. The result threw together two strong actors.

In "Homicide," he confronts massive Yaphet Kotto and solves murders. In "Thirst," he confronts tiny cryptosporidium and (maybe) saves a city.


Killer Crypto has leading role in TV movie
Tuesday, October 20, 1998
By Joanne Weintraub

Ironic, isn't it?

The latest strain of Cryptosporidium, which will infect most of the country Sunday night, won't touch Milwaukee.

That's because "Cryptosporidium C," a more virulent and, fortunately, fictional strain of The Thing That Ate Milwaukee in 1993, is the villain of a new TV movie, 'Thirst." And the disaster drama, which will be broadcast on virtually every other NBC affiliate at 8 p.m. Sunday, will not be carried by Milwaukee's Channel 4.

The reason has nothing to do with squeamishness and everything to do with business.

About twice a year, the station preempts a network movie to run its own programming, for which it receives all commercial revenue, rather than having to share the pie with NBC.

In this case, the decision to air "Incident in a Small Town," a 1994 TV movie with Walter Matthau, was made before channel 4 programmers knew what the network movie would be, according to spokeswoman Mary Alice Tierney.

So, if you live in the Milwaukee area, you'll have to wait for rerun season to see "Thirst."

Why would anyone want to make a disaster flick about Crypto in the first place?

'Beast' (about a killer squid) and 'Virus' (about a lethal microbe) did very well for NBC, so I was looking for something along those lines," writer and producer Paul Kaufman said in a phone interview from his Los Angeles office.

Searching for his killer, Kaufman read hundreds of media reports on influenza, deadly outbreaks of the Ebola virus in Africa, even the potential for germ warfare.

"I wanted something that would hit close to home," he recalls. And what could be closer than the kitchen sink?

Once he chose his tiny villain, Kaufman consulted with several parasitologists, including one starstruck scientist who kept trying to get a part in the movie.

In the interest of making Crypto more beastly, the writer invented an evil new strain that, unlike the Milwaukee kind, kills its hosts quickly and can't be destroyed by boiling.

San Paulo, the fictional California town where "Thirst" is set, also has the hard luck to be visited by Crypto C during a prolonged heat wave, making a liter of Evian more valuable than a magnum of champagne.

Though Milwaukee's Crypto epidemic was found to have contributed to the deaths of about 100 people, most sufferers got off more lightly. Kaufman decided, however, that stomach cramps and frequent trips to the bathroom were not the stuff of high drama.

He also ran into unexpected trouble with a technical term.

"Flocculation," the process by which the parasite is made to cluster so it can be wiped out appeared seven or eight times in the original script.

"But every time somebody had to say it, they started laughing, so we took out most of the references," he says,

Did Kaufman's professional immersion in Cryptosporidium change his own drinking habits?

"Not really," he says. "I grew up in Los Angeles, so I was pretty much raised on bottled water anyway." '

Besides, he adds, he didn't need much convincing that microbes can be malevolent.

"I'm the kind of person," Kaufman admits, "who washes their hands in the men's room and then won't touch the doorknob. I use a paper towel."

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