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September 13, 2001: Reuters/Variety REUTERS
Some TV shows too close to terror
By Michael Schneider and Josef Adalian
HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - Network executives have started to comb through their fall fare, hoping to erase anything considered tasteless in light of Tuesday's tragedy.
The pilot to CBS' rookie drama ``The Agency,'' for example, includes a reference to terrorist Osama bin Laden as the mastermind of a plot to blow up Harrods department store in London.
CBS execs said Wednesday that the pilot would not air as is -- if at all -- next week. It's more likely the network will sub another episode of ``The Agency'' as the show's first, making a few tweaks to account for continuity issues. Promos for the series have been pulled.
``Agency'' exec producer Shaun Cassidy said it's still too soon to tell precisely what changes will have to be made.
Nonetheless, ``The world's a very different place today than it was,'' he said through a spokesman. ``We will have to make some adjustments.''
Industry executives are also wondering how Fox might handle its new drama ``24,'' which focuses on a CIA agent (Kiefer Sutherland) who has 24 hours to prevent a group of terrorists from assassinating a presidential candidate.
The pilot to ``24,'' which is produced by 20th Century Fox TV and Imagine TV, includes the explosion of a jumbo jet, which might be deemed in poor taste considering Tuesday's attack.
But Fox executives believe ``24'' focuses more on the relationship between the main character and his family than it does on any terrorism -- and that the show's assassination attempt is very different from what happened in the real world this week.
``The storyline is not at all related to the events going on right now,'' a Fox source said. ``We don't see it as a problematic situation. But we'll keep our fingers on the pulse of the country to see where we are a month from now.''
Fox has yanked all ``24'' promos for the time being. But the drama isn't scheduled to debut until late October, when the nation may feel more calm.
Imagine TV president Tony Krantz said producers were taking a ``wait-and-see approach'' to whether any changes will have to be made to ``24,'' or whether its premiere may have to be delayed.
``Everyone is acting incredibly appropriately,'' Krantz said. ``No judgments are being made yet.''
Beyond depictions of terrorist attacks, the networks have to be careful with any scenes of New York under siege. Fox, for example, has decided to pull its made-for-TV movie ``The Rats,'' originally scheduled for Monday, in favor of a repeat run of ``The Nutty Professor.''
``The Rats'' takes place in Manhattan, as hundreds of rodents threaten to overtake the city; it's uncertain when the picture might hit the air.
Even skyline shots of New York will have to be changed now that the cityscape has been dramatically altered. NBC will edit out scenes of the World Trade Center from the opening credits of ``Law & Order: Special Victims Unit'' and an upcoming episode of its reality show ``Lost.''
Meanwhile, production continued on CBS' ``Big Brother 2,'' though it was still unclear when CBS will air the show's next episode.
The cousin of Monica, one of the houseguests, remained unaccounted for in New York late Wednesday. Monica has been kept up to date on the situation, said ``Big Brother'' executive producer Arnold Shapiro.
``All of us are praying for and having positive thoughts about Monica's
cousin being found alive and well,'' he said.
September 17, 2001: National Post
It is a case of television art inadvertently imitating reality. This TV season, the spy genre -- secret agents working in the shadows at times of world crisis -- is being reborn for the first time since the 1960s, when clones and spoofs of James Bond littered the airwaves. Since Watergate, secretive U.S. government agencies -- the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency -- have most often been the bad guys, rogue operatives conspiring to keep Scully and Mulder from the truth.
But this fall season includes three series set,
at least partly, within the CIA: CBS's The Agency, ABC's Alias and Fox's
anticipated and heavily promoted 24. All involve, in one way or another, heroic government agents battling terrorists bent on world chaos. Two other shows -- NBC's UC: Undercover and ABC's Thieves -- involve undercover operatives of somewhat ambiguous moral character fighting the good fight against evil.
Now, after the worst terrorist attack in the history
of the United States, all these series will make their debuts as the full
the U.S. government is being directed toward the hunt for the killers. The horror of Tuesday's attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon has put the producers of the CIA shows, in particular, and the networks involved in a position of having to re-evaluate what they are about to put on the air.
The opening episode of The Agency -- which involves the CIA's attempts to thwart a terrorist bombing and includes direct references to Osama bin Laden -- has been postponed and will be replaced by a less ripped-from-the-headlines segment. Fox is discussing whether to make changes to 24, which begins with the manhunt of an assassin and includes the bombing of a Los Angeles-bound plane.
"The world's a very different place today than it was," says Agency producer Shaun Cassidy. "We will have to make some adjustments."
But even before the terrorist attacks, those working on the CIA shows had been stressing that they were doing entertainment and not, as Alias creator J.J. Abrams put it, "a documentary on Langley," the home of the agency.
"We're not a procedural show," says 24 producer Joel Surnow. "Our drama comes from another place. We're trying to augment realism and make it a little sexier and more visual. For instance, TV actors are usually better-looking than the people doing those jobs in real life."
"With all deference to the CIA, which I respect enormously, it's less interesting to me than the story I'm trying to tell," says Abrams, whose Alias has been described as Felicity meets La Femme Nikita.
"I wasn't drawn to doing a spy show," adds Abrams, who in fact created Felicity. "I was drawn to a story about a strong-willed woman who is in this incredibly tenuous position. I'm much more interested in writing what works than what happens to be real."
The Agency is being made with some co-operation from the agency and uses former agents as consultants. Chase Brandon, a former CIA field operative and its first liaison to Hollywood, recently told The New York Times that the agency was co-operating with the series because "to see our image changing for the outside world makes us feel better about ourselves internally. It's a good morale booster."
While the producers of The Agency stress the realism of their show, even they temper their remarks by suggesting they are more interested in character than in recreating actual CIA cases.
"I think we show things as realistically as you
possibly can, not just to make straight heroes out of these people but
to just show
their work," says producer Wolfgang Petersen, who has directed such films as The Perfect Storm, Air Force One and Das Boot.
"If we do it right, then we show it all -- the sort of things where you can really say, 'Is that the right thing to do or not? Do they go too far here? Where is the morality?' "
Adds Cassidy: "The dramatic juice of the show ... really is about the moral and ethical struggles that each of these characters undergoes in the course of this job. National security and how far you go in the name of national security is subjective with each of these characters."
In fact, all these shows only brush reality. They certainly don't embrace it.
Alias, which has one of the best opening episodes
in recent television history, is more of a cartoon than a real-life drama.
lead character is a graduate student who just happens to be a CIA operative when not cracking the books. The plot dynamic is that she's really working for a rogue operation pretending to be part of the CIA, and in the end she has turn to the agency for help.
Abrams cheerfully admits there's absolutely nothing plausible about Alias.
"I thought, 'Wouldn't it be cool if Felicity got recruited by the CIA? Then she could find strength she didn't know she had and she wouldn't be able to tell her friends about it.'
"It's like doing a cartoon with compelling characters. A high-concept premise with intimate dramatic stories -- that's my dream show."
24 is more of a straightforward spy thriller -- albeit with marginal connections to reality -- although it has a very innovative format in which each of the 24 episodes represents one hour in the chase to hunt down the assassin. It's the real-time elements of the series and its creative use of split screen and the jittery camera work more common to reality TV that have made it a critics' favourite even before it airs.
Even The Agency, for all its CIA consultants,
often bears a very loose resemblance to reality -- especially in its sluggish
where some of the breaks the agents get in trying to stop the terrorists are nothing short of miraculous.
And none of those involved in these shows is quite sure why there was this sudden rush to revive what had been a dormant genre since the height of the Cold War.
Petersen suggests "it's not clear-cut any more" who the bad guys are, and "that makes it even more interesting.
"There are conflicts that come up from Kosovo
to Russia, South America and Indonesia," he says. "Everywhere in the world,
the CIA is still involved in missions. It is sometimes difficult to tell
who is on the right side and who is on the wrong side."
September 17, 2001: The Hollywood Reporter
CIA calls off `Agency' plan
By BROOKS BOLIEK
The Hollywood Reporter
WASHINGTON -- A premiere screening for the new CBS spy drama ``The Agency,'' a sort of coming-out party for the CIA that was scheduled for showing at its headquarters Tuesday, was canceled as the nation's top intelligence agency has more important things to do. With the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a gala at the George Bush Center for Intelligence in McLean, Va., became an extravagance the agency could do without, said Chase Brandon, the CIA's film industry liaison.
``The series will still air, but it will be a
week late, and we're not going to do the special premiere showing here,''
``We're not doing anything but focusing on the investigation.'' He said CIA workers had been looking forward to the premiere, but after Tuesday, everything changed. Brandon is the most visible symbol of the CIA's new outreach program. A former covert agent, Brandon gives technical advice to feature film and television producers on the agency's operations. He describes his job as making sure the CIA is portrayed accurately in films and TV.
``Agency'' is the first television series that was allowed to film inside the CIA's headquarters.
Brandon said he thought the relevance of the show would hold up even after the terrorist acts.
``The actions of an ensemble cast in a show dealing
with what difficulties, emotions and personalities that make up being part
the CIA, all of that is more relevant and pertinent than ever,'' he said.
CBS senior vice president communications Chris Ender said, ``The original pilot has been pulled indefinitely and will be replaced by another one of the shows.''
The original pilot has star Gil Bellows recruiting a Middle Eastern diplomat in a successful attempt to foil a bombing in London.
``Both the networks and producers are aware of
the sensitivities in light of the recent events and recognize that some
slight adjustments have to be made,'' Ender said.
September 17, 2001: Zap2it.com
LOS ANGELES (Zap2it.com) - The CIA has canceled Tuesday's scheduled premiere screening for the new CBS spy drama "The Agency" in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The screening was to take place at the CIA's George Bush Center for Intelligence in McLean, Va. followed by a gala celebration. "The series will still air, but it will be a week late, and we're not going to do the special premiere showing here," said Chase Brandon, the CIA's film industry liaison. "We're not doing anything but focusing on the investigation."
"Agency" is the first television series that was
allowed to film inside the CIA's headquarters
September 18, 2001: The New York Post
CIA DRAMA DEBUT PARTY NIXED AT HQ
A premiere screening for the new CBS spy drama "The Agency," a sort of coming-out party for the CIA that was scheduled for showing at its headquarters tonight, was canceled. After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a gala planned for the debut of the new CBS series at the George Bush Center for Intelligence in McLean, Va., became a security problem and a diversion the agency decided it could not accomodate, said Chase Brandon, the CIA's film industry liaison.
"The series will still air, but it will be a week
late, and we're not going to do the special premiere showing here," Brandon
"We're not doing anything but focusing on the investigation."
"Agency" is the first television series that was allowed to film inside the CIA's headquarters.
The first episode has already been edited by the network to delete a reference to terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
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