April 24, 2007 -- Life imitates art and art imitates life, but in some uncanny coincidences, when art imitates life it's a little too close for comfort.
Such is the case with ABC's daytime drama "One Life to Live" and the tragedy that occurred at Virginia Tech, in which one student gunned down 32 classmates and teachers before turning a gun on himself.
According to Abbie Schiller, vice president of media relations for ABC daytime television, the crew planned, taped and edited a story of a high school hostage situation in March. The story line affected all the characters in some way and was linked to 17 different episodes set to air in May.
After the Virginia Tech massacre, the top executives at ABC decided to pull the plot and rewrite the show.
Frank Valentini, "One Life to Live's" executive producer, said in a statement, "Out of respect to those affected by this devastating tragedy, especially the families, I felt that it was important to remove this story line from our show."
According to "Access Hollywood," Fox pulled its latest episode of the TV series "Bones," titled "Player Under Pressure," from its Wednesday night lineup more than a week ago.
Characters on the show were investigating human remains -- identified as a star student-athlete -- found under the bleachers at a gym. A "Bones" repeat aired in its place.
Similar to Valentini's statement, a Fox spokesperson told "Access Hollywood" the decision was made "out of sensitivity to the victims and families touched by this senseless tragedy."
Not an Unprecedented Move
This is not the first reaction of its kind in the entertainment industry after a national tragedy.
Schiller added that ABC's "Port Charles" had a terrorist story line surrounding the nightmare of Sept. 11, 2001, that was pulled as well.
In 1999, the season finale of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" was pulled from the WB schedule after the Columbine High School shootings. The controversial episode was called "Earshot" and involved the heroine, Buffy, discovering that she could read minds and that someone was thinking about committing mass murder at a high school.
The Columbine shootings involved two teenagers who shot and killed 12 students and a teacher before committing suicide.
The star of "Bones," David Boreanaz, was in both the pulled "Buffy" and "Bones" shows.
An Eerie Resemblance
Schiller told ABC News that "One Life to Live" had a very realistic teen story line, and that in anticipation for the summer, it wanted the show to be even more teen-centric.
Schiller said, "They [the writers] were trying to intensify efforts to tell a realistic story, something that would happen in a teen's life."
The character they created was a troubled teen, one who according to Schiller, "felt that there was no alternative to get the attention of the popular kids than to hold a classroom hostage."
This story line eerily resembles the scene at Virginia Tech more than a week ago. Law enforcement sources said the 23-year-old student, Seung-Hui Cho, left a long and "disturbing" note in his dorm room that said, "You caused me to do this." One of his former teachers told ABC News that Cho was "extraordinarily lonely -- the loneliest person I have ever met in my life."
The writers for "One Life to Live" had no idea their story line would be played out in real life just a few weeks before the episodes aired, but is it that strange that something like this happened?
Robert Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University, doesn't think so.
Thompson told ABC News, "Entertainment is an art of storytelling. … TV shows always want to be telling stories that are relevant to the society that they're telling them to."
He also added, "Serious movies and television shows are going to want to, at some point, be dealing with the fact that we live in a society where school shootings have become a disturbing regularity."
Censorship or Compassion?
After Sept. 11, the question "When is too soon?" was often raised. Is entertainment a comfort, an opportunity to process or is it merely a reminder of horrific events?
Clear Channel radio listed 165 songs it felt were inappropriate to air. The songs were not banned, but disc jockeys were encouraged not to play them.
Some of the songs included "Great Balls of Fire," "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," and all songs by the band Rage Against the Machine.
"When there's a big national tragedy, there needs to be a sacred space around it, and that time depends on the nature of the tragedy," Thompson told ABC News. "To respect that sacred space, what's the worst thing, we don't hear 'Great Balls of Fire'? Who's the worse for it?"
'Reduced to Silence'?
Though it is argued that there should be some level of sensitivity practiced by those in the entertainment industry, avoiding issues is not always the answer.
Sometimes it's better to address the issue for healing purposes.
Thompson said, "I don't think networks, soap writers or movie producers should be reduced to silence. School violence is something that happens and we expect to not only hear about it in our news reports, but we expect to hear about it in our histories … processed in our art as well."
While experts agree there is no formula or equation for when we recover from a horrific tragedy -- some of us never will -- the entertainment industry is best-served when it stays on the sensitive side after a horrific case like the Virginia Tech massacre.
So if we don't get to watch an episode of "One Life to Live" tomorrow with a high school hostage situation, are we really the worse for it?