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September 27, 2001: CBS Drama Canceled because It Features Plot about Planned bin Laden Terrorist Attack

Characters from ‘The Agency.’Characters from ‘The Agency.’ [Source: CBS]The pilot episode of a major new CBS drama series called The Agency was originally scheduled to be broadcast on this day, and would have featured a storyline about Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist group plotting to blow up a department store in London, England, but the episode is postponed due to its resemblance to the events of September 11. [New York Times, 9/29/2001; CNN, 10/31/2001; Jenkins, 2012, pp. 62-63] The Agency, according to The Guardian, is “a new CBS drama, full of best-and-brightest types rolling up their sleeves and attacking problems of national security.” [Guardian, 10/5/2001] The series will “tell stories of everyday life inside ‘The Agency,’” according to the New York Times. [New York Times, 5/6/2001] The Guardian has reported that the show’s villains will include “Arab terrorists, Colombian drug dealers, Iraqis, and German urban guerrillas.” [Guardian, 9/6/2001] Wolfgang Petersen, who directed blockbuster movies such as In the Line of Fire and Air Force One, is the show’s principal executive producer. [Dallas Morning News, 9/27/2001; Los Angeles Times, 9/29/2001]
Storyline Includes Planned Al-Qaeda Attack - The storyline of the pilot episode of The Agency features “terrorists from Osama bin Laden’s cells, waging a holy war against the West,” according to the New York Times. Early in the episode, it is revealed that the CIA has identified al-Qaeda as a security threat and that the terrorist group is planning a major attack in Europe. Fortunately, a CIA officer was able to infiltrate al-Qaeda and discovered the date of the planned attack. However, the agency has just three days to thwart the plot. Agents then discover that the terrorists intend to bomb the Harrods department store in London. They pass on this information to British intelligence officers, thereby helping to prevent the attack at the last minute. [New York Times, 9/29/2001; Jenkins, 2012, pp. 62-63] Bin Laden’s name is mentioned twice in the episode. [Dallas Morning News, 9/27/2001]
CIA Liaison Assisted with Script - Michael Frost Beckner, the creator of The Agency, will later say that he wrote the show’s pilot episode “over a year before 9/11,” presumably meaning around mid-2000. [Hollywood, Health and Society, 4/2/2002 pdf file] He worked with Chase Brandon to develop the script, and submitted early drafts to Brandon for approval. [Jenkins, 2012, pp. 56] Brandon is the CIA’s entertainment liaison officer, and before taking that post spent 25 years in the agency’s elite clandestine service. [Guardian, 9/6/2001; Guardian, 11/14/2008]
Storyline 'Originated from the CIA' - The similarity between the storylines of The Agency and real-world events, according to CNN, is because the show’s producers and writers have been “researching each storyline in detail. They read intelligence manuals, pull from actual CIA cases, and confer at length with the show’s consultant, retired [CIA] operative Bazzel Baz.” [CNN, 10/31/2001] Bill Harlow, the CIA’s chief spokesman, will suggest that the reason for the similarity is that the show “simply got lucky that the headlines intersected with its storylines so neatly.” But Beckner will reveal that the storyline for the pilot episode was suggested to him by Brandon. “In other words,” author Tricia Jenkins will note, the story about al-Qaeda plotting to bomb Harrods “originated from the CIA.” [Jenkins, 2012, pp. 66-67] Beckner will also say the pilot episode resembled what happened in the US on September 11 because the CIA “would let in anyone, including a little writer like me, to hear that al-Qaeda and bin Laden are going to attack us.” [Hollywood, Health and Society, 4/2/2002 pdf file]
Show's Premier at CIA Headquarters Canceled - The Agency received extensive assistance from the CIA during its production. As well as the CIA reviewing scripts, it is the first television series that was permitted to film inside CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and it used agency employees as extras. The pilot episode was even going to be premiered at CIA headquarters, on September 18, but the event was canceled because the agency was busy responding to the 9/11 attacks. [New York Times, 8/26/2001; Hollywood Reporter, 9/17/2001; Jenkins, 2012, pp. 56]
CIA Liaison Thinks Series 'Couldn't Be More Timely' - CBS cancels the broadcast of the pilot episode on September 27, when it was originally scheduled to be aired, in response to the 9/11 attacks. Gail Katz, one of the show’s executive producers, will comment, “Our show seems to be too close to what’s in the headlines” and it is therefore “not appropriate for viewing.” [CNN, 10/31/2001] Instead, another episode of The Agency is aired, in which agents work to prevent the assassination of Cuban leader Fidel Castro. [Variety, 9/23/2001; New York Times, 9/29/2001] Brandon, however, is upbeat about the series coming out at a time when terrorism has become such a major issue. “If anything, a show like The Agency couldn’t be more timely,” he will say. This, according to Brandon, is because, “Right now, the American public needs a sense of reassurance.” Brandon will add: “Our whole national consciousness is going to change. And I think a responsible film or TV episode about the agency, even one that weaves elements of terrorism into the storyline, can show the magnitude of what’s at stake.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/29/2001] Indeed, the show’s tag line is “Now, more than ever, America needs the unsung heroes of The Agency.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/2/2001]
Modified Version of Episode Later Broadcast - The pilot episode of The Agency is one of a number of movies and television dramas featuring storylines about terrorism that are canceled or rewritten in response to 9/11 (see (January 1998-2001); February 1999-September 11, 2001; June-September 11, 2001; Before Before September 11, 2001; September 13, 2001; November 17, 2001). [Denver Post, 9/17/2001; Village Voice, 12/4/2001] A subsequent episode, based around a planned terrorist attack in the US using anthrax, will also be rescheduled, because its original broadcast date coincides with the actual anthrax attacks in the US (see October 18, 2001). [Variety, 10/16/2001; People, 11/6/2001] A modified version of the pilot episode, with all references to bin Laden removed, will be broadcast on November 1. [South Florida Sun Sentinel, 10/25/2001; Jenkins, 2012, pp. 145]

Entity Tags: Bill Harlow, Central Intelligence Agency, CBS, Gail Katz, Charles (“Chase”) Brandon, Michael Frost Beckner

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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