Nearly two weeks after the Columbine High School massacre, it seems increasingly clear that we’ll never make sense of this senseless act. As attention turns toward who’s responsible, the entertainment industry — in a mixture of genuine concern and craven self-interest — is making an unprecedented effort to look accountable. As CBS Media Relations VP Chris Ender aptly puts it, ”If you’re deemed insensitive and out of touch, that’s bad.” Here’s a report on several high-profile media projects affected by the Littleton, Colo., tragedy.
Movies: Faced with lawsuits over The Basketball Diaries and Natural Born Killers (alleging the films — from New Line and Warner Bros., both owned by EW parent Time Warner — caused copycat murders by teens in Kentucky and Louisiana, respectively), Hollywood took a hard look at several new releases. Sony’s Arlington Road concerns conspiracy theorists who blow up buildings. The studio has delayed the film, slated for release May 14, until July 9. A Sony spokesman says the change is meant to avoid the Phantom Menace onslaught, but studio sources cite newfound sensitivity after the Littleton shootings. Conversely, Idle Hands, another Sony spring release, features high school murder victims and blood-splattered lockers, but the studio decided not to delay its April 30 release. ”It is kids in school,” says Sony VP Dennis Higgins, ”but we decided it’s unrealistic.” Still, Sony canceled all promotional activities and screenings in Denver (though the film will still open there) and briefed the cast on how to answer related questions.
Video: Speaking of The Basketball Diaries, the 1995 film, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, who in one scene guns down fellow students, is now enjoying newfound exposure. MGM Home Entertainment announced it would temporarily recall tapes of Diaries — perhaps the first politically motivated video recall in modern times. There’s just one problem: Until July 1, PolyGram — not MGM — controls all copies in the marketplace. Says MGM senior VP Craig Parsons: ”We’re going to wait and see [whether to recall the tape in July]. We’re not suggesting that the film should be recalled permanently.” Meanwhile, PolyGram spokeswoman Kristen Foster points out, ”We’ve always had an open return policy” allowing retailers to send tapes back. No retailers have availed themselves thus far.
Television: The small screen was also stunned by a series of scripted situations bearing a resemblance to Littleton. ”Earshot,” an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in which Buffy reads the mind of a student who’s thinking about killing classmates, was set to air April 27. ”The producers of the show and The WB agreed that it wasn’t appropriate,” says a WB spokeswoman, adding that it’s not known whether it will air in the future. ”A Day in the Life,” a Promised Land episode scheduled for April 22 on CBS, depicts a student gunned down at school. It was replaced, but ”it will air eventually,” says Ender. Meanwhile, MTV opted to push up Warning Signs, a news show about detecting violent tendencies in teens: Set to premiere April 27, it went on April 22. Says Dave Sirulnick, head of MTV News: ”We were hoping it would be a proactive as opposed to a reactive show.”