By Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist Published Apr 26, 2010 at 11:00 AM
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Sergio Vieira de Mello isn't a name known to most Americans. He was the head of the United Nations effort to steer an independent course in Iraq in 2003 when a terrorist bombing in Baghdad killed him and 20 other UN staff members.

The son of a Brazilian diplomat, he was dashing figure, traveling from trouble area to trouble area in a long UN career, and a new documentary tells the story of his life and tragic death in the ruins of the UN headquarters in Baghdad's Canal Hotel.

(Details on a free Milwaukee screening of the film follow.) 

The documentary is titled, simply, "Sergio," enough of a label for the man described by former UN General Secretary Kofi Annan as the only UN official known universally by his first name.

While the focus of "Sergio" is the terror attack that ended his life, director Greg Barker tells the story of a complicated character: a charismatic lady's man, an accomplished diplomat and a humanitarian. A strident opponent of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, Sergio put aside his views to take on the job of heading the UN operations there.

His fiance, Carolina Larriera, who was working with him at the time of his death, tells the heart-breaking story of how she lost the man she loved, a man counting the days until the end of his dangerous assignment.

Particularly interesting are the discordant memories of two Americans who tried in vain to pull the mortally wounded Sergio from the rubble of the old Canal Hotel, US Army reservists William von Zehle and Andre Valentine.

Valentine can't seem to put aside his anger at the fact that Sergio refused to pray as his life ebbed away, von Zehle remains astonished that the diplomat was more concerned about the safety of others, than about the imminent end of his own fascinating life.

It's that latter view that is the central and simple message of "Sergio." It's a message that's worth remembering.

How to see "Sergio": While "Sergio" debuts on May 6 on HBO, a free screening of the film is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. Tuesday at the Landmark Oriental Theatre sponsored by HBO Documentary Films and Milwaukee Film. The director will be on hand to to answer audience questions after the screening.

Seating is limited and free tickets will be available at the Oriental box office at 4 p.m. Tuesday. 

On TV: Nothing's official, but,'s Michael Ausiello has intelligence suggesting NBC will indeed renew "Chuck" for another season. We'll know for sure by mid-May.

  • HBO says "Hung" and "Entourage" will be back June 27 in the 9 p.m. hour, following "True Blood," which returns June 13.
  • Former Channel 4 news director Jeff Kiernan received the Communicator of the Year award over the weekend from his alma mater, Marquette University's J. William and Mary Diederich College of Communications. Kiernan is currently news director of WBBM-TV, Chicago's CBS affiliate.
  • Speaking of TV folks and colleges, PBS' Gwen Ifill will be the commencement speaker May 16 at St. Norbert College in De Pere.
  • Last week's endless "Idol Gives Back" episode of "American Idol" not only ran more than 20 minutes long -- it raised $45 million, according to Fox.

Conan and Jim jam on stage: Soon-to-be TBS talker Conan O'Brien's victory tour hit Los Angeles over the weekend and he tweeted the event thusly: "I'm doing my live show tonight from the Universal lot where I taped 'The Tonight Show.' So if a shot rings out, tell my wife I loved her."

There were no shots, but Jim Carrey joined him on stage. Here's a look:

Tim Cuprisin Media Columnist

Tim Cuprisin is the media columnist for He's been a journalist for 30 years, starting in 1979 as a police reporter at the old City News Bureau of Chicago, a legendary wire service that's the reputed source of the journalistic maxim "if your mother says she loves you, check it out." He spent a couple years in the mean streets of his native Chicago, and then moved on to the Green Bay Press-Gazette and USA Today, before coming to the Milwaukee Journal in 1986.

A general assignment reporter, Cuprisin traveled Eastern Europe on several projects, starting with a look at Poland after five years of martial law, and a tour of six countries in the region after the Berlin Wall opened and Communism fell. He spent six weeks traversing the lands of the former Yugoslavia in 1994, linking Milwaukee Serbs, Croats and Bosnians with their war-torn homeland.

In the fall of 1994, a lifetime of serious television viewing earned him a daily column in the Milwaukee Journal (and, later the Journal Sentinel) focusing on TV and radio. For 15 years, he has chronicled the changes rocking broadcasting, both nationally and in Milwaukee, an effort he continues at

When he's not watching TV, Cuprisin enjoys tending to his vegetable garden in the backyard of his home in Whitefish Bay, cooking and traveling.