The effect of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon continued to ripple through the cable industry, as networks scrambled to adjust their schedules and remove any programs that might offend viewer sensibilities in light of the tragedy that killed thousands.
Other networks have moved up the debut of new programming, and a slew of broadcast and cable channels were expected to telecast a live telethon last Friday as entertainment networks cope with the unprecedented national calamity.
Network executives last week scanned their schedules for previously planned programming that was deemed inappropriate in light of the terrorist attacks.
After airing reruns for a week, Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
went back on the air with a new show last Thursday. Stewart — who halted and broke into tears at several points — acknowledged that he faced the difficult task of coming back on the air with a program that in more typical times satirizes the nightly news and political figures such as President Bush, topics that are off-limits at this juncture.
During the start of his program, Stewart emotionally expressed his feelings about the attack, noting the view from his apartment used to be of the World Trade Center. Now, he said, he can see the Statue of Liberty.
The rest of the show included funny segments from prior shows, including Stewart's interview of ABC anchor Peter Jennings at one of the presidential conventions last year. Stewart ended the show by bringing out a puppy from under his desk.
Comedy Central has also been carefully screening all programming set to air to be certain that there are no potentially touchy references or "anything that remotely relates" to the attacks, a spokesman said. In looking through its library, for example, Comedy Central found one episode of Primetime Glick
that won't be repeated. In it, star Martin Short does a sketch in where he mimics MTV personality Tom Green, and raids the camp of Osama bin Laden, the primary suspect in the U.S. terrorist attacks.
Meanwhile, FX Network pulled a Sept. 15 airing of the action-thriller Die Hard
and replaced it with the comedic film My Cousin Vinny, said FX executives. The network also replaced a Sept. 16 airing of the violence-tinged movie A Simple Plan
with the light-hearted comedy Weekend At Bernie's.
The spokesman also said FX pulled two episodes of its popular series Son of The Beach
last week, which included references to bin Laden and hijacked airplanes. The network also pulled ads for the series that featured the World Trade Center buildings.
"We're cognizant of the mood and respectful of the needs of the country," FX president Peter Ligouri said. "As a result, we're being more selective and constantly reviewing what we are airing on the network to determine if it's appropriate at this time."
USA Network last Thursday replaced The Siege
with the drama The Man in the Iron Mask
and last Saturday pulled Patriot Games
for the comedy Bird On a Wire.
Other movies the network deemed inappropriate for its schedule included Red Scorpion
(Sept. 26) and I Come In Peace
Also, repeats of USA's original series La Femme Nikita
— which centers on a covert operation — have been pulled for the rest of the month, the network said. USA is also looking at individual episodes of such off-network series as Walker, Texas Ranger, Nash Bridges
to determine whether any would be insensitive to air.
Even pay service Home Box Office last week pulled some of the films it had planned to air, including Pentagon Wars
with Kelsey Grammer, which was replaced by Spring Break.
"We screened all 15 of our channels and pulled some theatricals," the HBO spokesman said.
However, the premium network continues to debut installments of Band of Brothers
— its epic miniseries chronicling the heroics of U.S. paratroopers during World War II — on Sunday nights and repeat them throughout the week.
After the attack, HBO did pull its extensive print and TV ad campaign touting the $125 miniseries, TV's most-expensive project ever. "It was a decision made for obvious reasons," an HBO spokesman said.
The Sept. 16 installment of the series, which aired the Sunday after the attack, posted a 13.2 rating, or 4.5 million households, according to Nielsen Media Research. That was down from the Band of Brothers
premiere, which was the highest-rated long-form program in HBO's history. The first two hour-long installments of the miniseries, which debuted Sept. 9, captured an 18.1 and 17.7 rating, respectively, within HBO's universe.
DELAYS AND DEBUTS
Other networks pushed back the premiere dates for several highly touted original programs due to the tragedy. Bravo, citing "recent tragic national events," postponed the premiere of its latest original series, The It Factor,
until later in the season.
It had been slated to debut Sept. 30.
Home & Garden Television decided to delay airing a special, New York Uptown/Downtown,
because it had general shots of Manhattan that included the World Trade Center, said HGTV president Burton Jablin. The special, originally slated to air Oct. 21, will be re-edited and run in the first quarter of 2002, according to Jablin.
MTV: Music Television and VH1 both pre-empted all long-form programming the weekend of Sept. 15 to air music videos and interstitial programming related to the terrorist attacks, said an MTV spokeswoman.
Both networks also developed specials around the attacks. MTV was scheduled to air on Sept. 21, MTV NewsNow Special Report, a 30-minute special targeted to young viewers to provide a clearer understanding of the situation. The show will feature seven different reports from MTV News correspondents, said the network.
Meanwhile, VH1 debuted Listening to America, a news special on Sept. 19. The 30-minute show recounted the experiences of network correspondent Rebecca Rankin, who drove cross country after the attacks stranded her in Los Angeles. The show features interviews Rankin conducted with both stars and regular people as she made her way across the nation, said VH1.
Wisdom Television pre-empted its regularly scheduled programming the weekend of Sept. 15 to present special "healing" programs to help Americans get through the pain of the attacks. The weekend's shows focused on coping with grief and loss while offering viewers resources and tools to support their healing, said the network.
Wisdom Television chairman and founder Bill Turner said the network didn't hesitate to offer replacement programming to help the country heal.
"It is our purpose to help address the big personal and psychological questions that have been left in the aftermath of such tragedy," Turner said. "We will continue to offer tools so that people can get on with their lives productively and peacefully."
Fine arts and music channel Trio postponed its scheduled Sept. 30 airing of Death of A Salesman
to Oct. 28, replacing it with a 1999 Eurythmics Peace Tour concert in support of Greenpeace and Amnesty International. Salesman
will instead air Oct. 30.
The Learning Channel last week postponed the premiere of Junkyard Wars
— its popular series that pits teams of machines against one another until one team is destroyed — by one week, to Sept. 26.
In a switch, National Geographic Channel is moving up the launch of its Frontline Diaries
series a week to Sept. 25 from Oct. 22. The premiere episode documents journalist Sebastian Junger's trip to Afghanistan earlier this year to meet with Taliban resistance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was killed Sept. 14 in a suicide bomb attack. Published reports suggest that attack was ordered by bin Laden.
"Given the recent course of tragic events, as well as developments that continue to unfold, we felt it was important to share this program at the earliest possible date," said NGC executive vice president of programming, production and news Andrew Wilk.
On the direct-broadcast satellite side, DirecTV Inc. will indefinitely offer its New York-based broadcast channel feeds free of charge to area subscribers, said senior manager of communications Bob Marsocci said. The network opened up the broadcast package — for which it usually charges $5.99 a month — the day of the terrorist attacks, which destroyed the major New York TV broadcasters' master antenna atop the twin towers.
"We wanted [subscribers] to have access to arguably their most important news sources – the local stations," he said.
Meanwhile, a slew of cable networks at press time were scheduled to participate in the Sept. 21 simulcast of the commercial-free America: A Tribute to Heroes
telethon to raise funds and spirits in the wake of last week's terrorist tragedies.
Home Box Office, Court TV, MTV: Music Television, VH1, TNN: The National Network, Country Music Television, Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel, Black Entertainment Television, Univision, Telemundo, Showtime, Lifetime Television, E! Entertainment Television, FX, Wisdom Television, Fox Movie Channel, Fox Family Channel, Fox Sports Net, Comedy Central Hallmark Channel, USA Network, Turner South and Turner Network Television were scheduled to air the telethon from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. EST last Friday night, representatives for the channels indicated.
The show, to take place in New York and Los Angeles, will also be carried by broadcast networks CBS, ABC, Fox, NBC, UPN and The WB.
Other cable networks that wanted to air the unprecedented event were prohibited from doing so because they lacked a dual East Coast and West Coast feed. Event co-organizers NBC, CBS, Fox Broadcasting Co. and ABC banned single-feed networks from offering the telethon for competitive reasons and to appease their station affiliates, protecting the delayed West Coast telecast, according to sources close to the situation.
The event was expected to air live in the Eastern and Central time zones and tape-delayed in the Mountain and Pacific areas. All funds raised by the show will be donated to the long-term relief effort for thousands of Americans who have been directly affected by the hijackings.
Networks such as Trio, National Geographic Channel and Rainbow Networks' Bravo, WE! Women's Entertainment and American Movie Classics had intended to carry the telethon, but were told late Wednesday they had to pass on the event.
A Rainbow spokeswoman said the company was willing to air the telethon at midnight to protect the purity of the West Coast feed, but was denied.
"We're disappointed, but we weren't able to air the telethon because of technical issues," Rainbow spokeswoman Christine Levesque said.
Some executives at the excluded networks worried that some critics and viewers would perceive their inability to carry the telethon as non-patriotic or a stunt to boost ratings with regularly scheduled programming.
"We're concerned that someone who doesn't know the technological issues surrounding the carriage of the telethon may assume that we didn't want to offer the event," said one network executive.
America: A Tribute to Heroes
was scheduled to feature appearances by U2, Celine Dion, Enrique Iglesias, Limp Bizkit, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Julia Roberts, Kelsey Grammer, Clint Eastwood, Billy Joel, Tom Hanks, Robin Williams, Will Smith, Neil Young and Robert De Niro, among many others from the worlds of music, film, television and sports.
ESPN, which did not carry the event, was instead expected to run a crawl on the network during the telethon, featuring information on how to contribute to the cause, a network spokesman said.