David steps off 'Curb' to free innocent man
EmptyThe final chapter was written last week in a story as unlikely and ironic as it was utterly random. A man named Juan Catalan who had been unjustly imprisoned for nearly five months after being charged with a murder he didn't commit -- and exonerated by unused daily footage shot for the HBO comedy series "Curb Your Enthusiasm" -- received a $320,000 settlement of a lawsuit filed against the City of Los Angeles.
You might remember how it all went down. Catalan had been jailed as the primary suspect in the May 2003 killing of a 16-year-old girl. His alibi? He was attending a Dodger game with his 6-year-old daughter at the time of the murder. But because it couldn't immediately be proven, Catalan remained locked up.
Fortunately, Catalan's defense attorney, Todd Melnik, was a particularly industrious guy who went the extra mile. He pored through videotape of the televised ballgame hoping to spot his client, but found nothing. Then Catalan happened to remember that a camera crew was shooting something at the stadium on the night in question. However, he didn't know much more -- except for one thing.
"He remembered seeing Super Dave Osborne (actor Bob Einstein), who was doing a guest spot in that 'Curb,'" says Bob Weide, the series' exec producer who directed the Dodger Stadium episode titled "The Car Pool Lane" -- for which he earned Emmy and DGA Award noms. "So Catalan's attorney did some research and found out what show it was."
From there, Melnik received permission from HBO to view the raw footage from the episode in the "Curb" production offices. And there was Catalan with his daughter in the crowd. Better still, the footage was time-coded, confirming that he was indeed inside the stadium before the slaying occurred in Sun Valley.
"The chances of our cameras capturing the guy's face were so remote," says Weide, who is in preproduction on his first feature directing job -- the comedy "How to Lose Friends and Alienate People," starring Simon Pegg of "Shaun of the Dead" fame.
"It just so happened we had a camera rolling with a wide-enough lens to have Catalan in the shot. But we didn't shoot in very many sections that night. If we'd picked a different section, the man is still in jail."
That documentation, coupled with records of a cell phone call Catalan made from the stadium, shored up his alibi and convinced the judge to release him from incarceration. Reportedly, he hadn't been a fan of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" before, but the fact the show inadvertently saved him has turned Catalan into one.
"It points up the lengths to which you have to go to convince people to watch your show today," Weide quips.
The absurd incongruity of a show like "Curb Your Enthusiasm" being the impetus for springing an innocent man from the pokey remains a wildly paradoxical exclamation point to the tale. It bathes star Larry David -- a legendary misanthrope whose disdain for schmaltz is well known -- in an altruistic light, albeit through no effort of his own.
"You know, I think Larry did enjoy this whole thing," Weide maintains. "The fact that it was so clearly inadvertent is what's most important to him. This didn't implicate him as having directly helped someone."
As for Weide, he recalls that after having been nominated for that "Curb" episode by the Directors Guild, he lost out to an episode of "Sex and the City" that "didn't save anyone's life. Not that it's sour grapes. I just think it's important to point out."