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Movies, TV with terror plots face uncertain future

Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2001

LOS ANGELES -- Real-life terrorism has led Hollywood executives to postpone two movies and consider changing the scheduling of other films and TV shows that involve terrorist plots against Americans.

Warner Bros. said Wednesday it will indefinitely withhold the release of Arnold Schwarzenegger's latest film, ''Collateral Damage,'' in which a terrorist bombs a Los Angeles skyscraper. It was to have debuted Oct. 5.

Disney's Touchstone Pictures postponed the Sept. 21 release of the Tim Allen comedy ''Big Trouble,'' in which one scene involves a bomb on a plane.

Both studios said they acted out of respect for victims of the terror attacks Tuesday in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

''Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this terrible tragedy,'' said Touchstone spokeswoman Vivian Boyer.

Warner Bros. said it would retrieve all commercials, posters and ads for ''Collateral Damage'' and disconnect its Web site, all of which feature phony newspaper headlines about the fictional attack.

Meanwhile, Sony Pictures removed a trailer from theaters and the Internet for the adventure ''Spider-Man'' because of a scene in which a helicopter carrying fleeing robbers gets trapped in a giant spider web strung between the two towers of the World Trade Center.

The sequence was created only for the ad and not for the film, which debuts May 3, Sony spokesperson Susan Tick said.

ABC canceled a showing Saturday of the George Clooney movie ''The Peacemaker,'' about nuclear terrorists, and replaced it with the Sandra Bullock romance ''Hope Floats.''

Fox replaced broadcasts of ''The X-Files'' movie Friday and the film ''Independence Day'' on Sunday with the comedies ''Nine Months'' and ''Mrs. Doubtfire,'' respectively, spokesperson Scott Grogin said.

In ''Independence Day,'' the White House and Empire State Building blow up.

Fox feared such scenes could disturb many viewers. ''We're looking at programming that is more family-oriented so people can watch it together,'' Grogin said.

On one Fox drama just six months ago, the World Trade Center was threatened. The premiere of the series ''The Lone Gunmen'' featured a U.S. government plot to boost arms sales by crashing an airliner into one of the towers, then blaming terrorists.

Scenes from the cockpit showed the struggle to disengage the plane's suicidally programmed navigational system. The plane managed to clear the tower by inches.

''The Lone Gunmen'' was quickly canceled. But among the new crop of shoot-'em-up series in the fall TV season, which starts Monday, are three -- ABC's ''Alias,'' CBS' ''The Agency'' and Fox's ''24'' -- that deal with terrorism at war with the CIA.

One story line in ''24'' involves a terrorist blowing up a passenger plane. On the premiere of ''The Agency,'' terrorists plot to blow up the London department store Harrods.

Promos for those shows may be withheld. ''We're taking this one day at a time,'' Grogin said.

Do viewers still have an appetite for violent escapism?

''All this time, we've been conjuring with this deck of violent images. But this week has given them substance,'' said Ric Burns, whose epic history ''New York'' premieres its final two installments on PBS later this month.

''Who's going to want to play with them now?''

The biggest TV networks -- ABC, CBS and NBC and Fox -- canceled all programming and commercials after the attacks for round-the-clock news coverage. They planned to stay with the story continuously at least through Wednesday.

Entertainment events around the country were postponed or canceled. The Emmy Awards show, scheduled for Sunday, was postponed. The Latin Grammy show, to have taken place Tuesday night in Los Angeles, was canceled.

Broadway shows, closed for two days, will resume performances Thursday evening. Jed Bernstein, president of the League of American Theatres and Producers, said that before the curtains rise the theaters will dim their marquee lights to honor the victims.

Theme parks such as Walt Disney World in Florida and Disneyland and Universal Studios in Southern California reopened after closing for one day. And major movie studios such as Paramount, Sony Pictures and Warner Bros. resumed production Wednesday.

Other cancellations included tapings for the ''The Tonight Show with Jay Leno'' at the NBC studios in Burbank, ''Late Night With Conan O'Brien'' in New York and a concert by Madonna on Tuesday night in Los Angeles. The Leno and O'Brien shows will be dark all week, NBC officials said. CBS said David Letterman's ''Late Show'' was taking the week off anyway.

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EDITOR'S NOTE -- Television writer Frazier Moore contributed to this report.

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Elsewhere in television ...

'BEING 15': ABC News next week plans a series of reports titled ''Being 15'' that explore what it's like to be a teen-ager today. The stories will appear on several ABC News shows, including ''World News Tonight,'' ''Good Morning America,'' ''Nightline'' and ''20/20.'' Among the reports is an examination of the teen-age brain, a segment about the political views of a panel of 15-year-olds and an examination of young people in the foster care system.

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