PBS reporter Georgie Anne Geyer sees more than just coincidence in the character played by Markie Post in ``Hearts Afire.'


Television's fictional female reporters are showing a knack for getting into scrapes in the real world.

First, there was last year's Dan Quayle-Murphy Brown clash, with the then-vice president chastising Brown for her unwed motherhood. Now, we have the case of Georgie Anne Geyer and Georgie Anne Lahti.Geyer, veteran journalist, can be seen as a guest pundit on such programs as PBS' ``Washington Week in Review.' Lahti, sitcom character, is a reporter dwelling in the world of CBS' ``Hearts Afire.'

Geyer, who generally doesn't watch TV comedies, has been scrutinizing Lahti recently - and not for professional guidance. She claims the character (played by actress Markie Post) is based, in part, on her.

``My first feeling was I was being exploited,' Geyer says.

Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and Harry Thomason, the high-profile couple who produce ``Hearts Afire' as well as presidential inaugurations for close friends named Bill, have issued adamant denials.

``I can tell you unequivocally that I am not in the business of stealing other people's lives,' Bloodworth-Thomason told the Washington Post.\ The series debuted in the fall, but the dispute heated up recently after Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko, a longtime friend of Geyer, wrote scathingly about the show and its producers.

Royko and Geyer note that she and Lahti are blondes with the same unusual first name. Both started their careers at Chicago newspapers and became globe-trotting correspondents who won prized interviews with Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Cuba's Fidel Castro.

Unlike Geyer, the series character hits a rocky patch in her career and is forced to take a job as a press aide in a conservative Southern senator's office.

Geyer, in addition to her TV appearances, writes books and a column syndicated in 120 newspapers.

Lahti is a liberal; Geyer describes herself as a moderate. And while Lahti's father (played by Ed Asner) is a convicted felon, Geyer wants it known her dad was a respected Chicago businessman.

Lahti had an affair with Castro while reporting on him, a major ethical no-no. ``I've never even considered sleeping with someone I'm interviewing,' Geyer says.

The words ``lawsuit' and ``settlement' have been uttered, along with ``invasion of privacy' and ``libel,' and the issue rests now in the hands of attorneys (whose hearts undoubtedly are afire).

Viewers may be confused. Is this further evidence of the slippage between fiction and fact on television, more careless blurring of reality's boundaries?

``It's a classic case of the confusion of entertainment and the media and politics,' maintains Geyer.

A call seeking comment from Bloodworth-Thomason was not immediately returned.\ Whatever the Lahti character's origin, whether the blending was or was not deliberate, the dispute offers worthwhile reminders.

Ruth Ashton Taylor, a respected California television journalist who began her career four decades ago working with Edward R. Murrow, suggests that Geyer may be taking the sitcom too seriously.

``A person can be used a little bit as a character, but it takes off from there,' Taylor said.

Television, as with films or novels, relies on an exaggeration of life. How much did the winsome police of ``Barney Miller' or the silly courtroom denizens of ``Night Court' resemble their real counterparts?

Viewers are getting entertainment, not education.

As entertainment, ``Hearts Afire' is a funny, adult series with appealing chemistry between its leads, Post and John Ritter. It is not, however, one reporter's biography or a textbook on American journalism.

Lahti's tough, chain-smoking veneer is more akin to sitcom sister Murphy Brown, another hard-bitten type with a good heart, than to Geyer (or many other reporters, male or female, for that matter).

Taylor also voices concern that viewers may equate a make-believe reporter's standards - sleeping with a source - with those in the working press.

``I would hope that the public would have a better view of journalists. It is cheapening,' she said.

In all fairness, Taylor added, broadcast journalism must shoulder some blame for the profession's loss of credence.

``If fiction and reality get blurred, it's not only by fiction. It's on news shows,' she said.

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