N E W Y O R K, Sept. 25, 2001 -- As the world watched the twin towers of the World Trade Center come under attack, viewers repeated a common refrain: "It looks like a movie."
In fact, what happened was eerily close to some movie scripts that were soon to hit the big screen. But now the entertainment and industry and advertisers face the challenge of how to rework their fiction to adapt to American's altered mindset. Since the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, every topic from international politics to air travel has become sensitive terrain.
"The studios and networks don't want to upset viewers and are proceeding cautiously," said Ken Tucker, Entertainment Weekly's critic-at-large. "Images or stories that hit too close to home are being pulled or put on hold until the mood of the country calms down."
Off the Marquees
Almost immediately after the attacks, executives began editing scripts and yanking works that were already in production, Tucker said.
Each of the television networks has some potentially problematic material. NBC will be dropping a scene from an episode of the sitcom Friends that was shot at an airport security check. Fox's new show 24, a real-time drama about a terrorist plot to kill a presidential candidate, could be too intense for viewers, Tucker said. CBS's fall offering, The Agency, contains material about terrorists, and ABC's new show Alias has plot lines dealing with terrorist attacks and other threats.
A number of movies have been postponed indefinitely. They include Collateral Damage, which stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as a firefighter who loses his family in a bombed building, and Big Trouble, with Tim Allen in a plot that features a terrorist smuggling a bomb onto an airplane. The script for Nosebleed, in which Jackie Chan was to play a window washer at the World Trade Center who foils a terrorist attempt to blow up the building, is being rewritten.
While studios and networks are certainly wary about showing violence, some are even skittish about airing any images at all of the buildings that were attacked, Tucker said. Industry executives are going back and forth on what to do about such images, he said.
"In some recent screenings that happened to show shots of the twin towers, audience members actually broke out in cheers," he said. "So the effort to spare people painful reminders could also deny them an opportunity to feel pride."
Ads Become Condolence Cards
The advertising world has also been affected. For the first four days after the attacks, the four TV networks switched to an all-news format, suspending all advertising at an estimated total cost of $400 million, said Bob Garfield of Advertising Age.
Many companies took out print ads expressing their grief and extending sympathy to the victims and their families. In New York, airlines, insurers and investment companies took out full-page newspaper ads that served as condolence cards.
Belly Buttons Take A Break
As television commercials return, their tone will be more sober, Garfield said.
Commercials featuring ironic humor and mean-spirited jokes will be dumped, along with long-playing expensive ad campaigns that may seem too lighthearted now, Garfield said. Jokes about firemen, cops, New York and airplanes will likely be abandoned, he said.
"The industry was in a dramatically recessionary period already, and they will be as hard hit as all other industries," Garfield said. "But the mood will change, slowly, although some sensitivities will linger for a very long time."
Pepsi has suspended its ads featuring pop star Britney Spears because of the perception that they are too frivolous for the nation's somber mood, Garfield said. But he thinks the moratorium on such ads will not last for long. "Belly buttons will be back," he said.