In the wake of the attack find out what's now in store for spy-themed shows

By Lynette Rice
Updated September 26, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
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After days of being glued to the TV sorting through real- life tales of international terrorists, national crises, and danger at every turn, the question now becomes: How eager will viewers be to tune in to prime-time dramas that cover the same scary, heartrending territory? That’s the dilemma facing CBS, Fox, and ABC as they prepare to debut three spy-themed shows this fall.

Soon after the terrorist attack, CBS decided to pull the pilot of ”The Agency,” the Eye’s gander into the CIA. The episode was set to feature a thwarted attempt to blow up a London department store by a faction devoted to Osama bin Laden, the chief suspect in the World Trade Center disaster. ”We felt it would be a little insensitive to air it so close to the tragic events of the other day,” says one source close to the show. CBS plans to launch the show with a different episode.

Meanwhile, Fox’s CIA drama, ”24,” which had been reeling in the kudos for its innovative real-time structure (one day will play out over the course of the season), is now stuck with a season-long, terrorist-filled headache on its hands (the story pits Kiefer Sutherland’s operative against a foreign plot to assassinate a presidential candidate). Not only does the premise appear touchy given that the White House and Air Force One were targets of the Sept. 11 attack, but the pilot also contains a scene in which a terrorist blows up a plane. Although Fox has more than a month to tinker with the show (originally set to bow Oct. 30, the drama’s premiere date has now been pushed to Nov. 6 because of delays in Major League baseball’s schedule), the net’s entertainment president, Gail Berman, is doubtful she’ll ask for changes at all. ”It’s not an explosion-y kind of show,” says Berman. ”It’s Kiefer versus the bad guy. It plays out on a very humanistic level.” Adds executive producer Tony Krantz: ”’24’ is about heroics…. We’re telling a heroic story about people who are willing to make any sacrifice to maintain the central tenets of our society.”

Producers of the new ABC show ”Alias” also don’t believe there’s any cause for concern over the exploits of their sexy secret agent/grad student. ”’Alias’ is a comic book brought to life, not a real-life drama,” says executive producer J.J. Abrams, who had been steering the show away from global terrorist story lines even before the attack. ”We’re not dealing with the horrible realities — mostly because every time we started to think about stories in that way, they felt way too broad and over-the-top. So, once again, reality is far wilder than fiction.”

Either way, the watchdogs at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Media and Public Affairs, having just focused their attention on the networks’ affinity for shock TV, seem willing to let them act as their own taste police. ”News events can inspire TV dramas but never censor them,” says media director Matthew Felling. ”Quality content shouldn’t give way to ‘safe’ content. Let the viewers be the judge.”

Additional reporting by Dan Snierson

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