Should TV Shows Face New York's Reality?

                 Even the most casual of viewers knows that many TV shows are set in New York
                 City. From the gang on "Friends" to the cops and lawyers on "Law & Order," New
                 York City is the place a lot of television characters live.

                 But as the rubble is cleared, one of the many questions waiting for an answer in the
                 weeks to come is what are all the New York-based shows going to do? How will
                 they deal with the tragedy and its aftermath?

                 Reality will force the writers and producers of all these fictional shows to make a
                 choice - one that many aren't yet willing to address publicily.

                 One option is to continue with a simulation of a New York City that no longer
                 exists. The other is to move into some television version of the new New York City.
                 Last week's tragedy seems too big, too powerful, too overwhelming for anyone -
                 even TV characters - to escape.

                 The entertainment industry has taken a few steps in response: Columbia TriStar
                 plans to check episodes of two New York-centered syndication franchises -
                 "Seinfeld" and "Law & Order" - for any retroactively awkward scenes. And NBC
                 is pushing back the season opener of "Third Watch," a show focused on an NYC
                 Fire Department rescue squad, to Oct. 8.

                 Network publicists say many producers and writers haven't had time to think about
                 how real-life events may change their fictional worlds. As one NBC publicist said
                 last week, "People here are still waiting to hear about missing family and friends.
                 How this is going to affect a show is not something anyone is thinking about right

                 That's understandable. But ultimately, all of television's New York-based shows
                 have the same dilemma to face. If a show does open itself up to the tragedy and its
                 aftermath, how does it keep from being overwhelmed? And if a show seals itself off
                 from the post-attack world, then it also seals itself off from everything and
                 everybody in that world, which is to say us, the audience.

                 Sitcoms may face the tougher choice; after all, they aren't designed to absorb and
                 process real-life tragedy. A few current-event quips is as close as they get. How
                 can "Everybody Loves Raymond" or "Just Shoot Me" enter the world into which
                 they are now going to be broadcast without ceasing to be sitcoms?

                 Can you imagine "Friends" trying to deal with or reflect life in the aftermath of the
                 terrorist attack? On the other hand, can you imagine the subject not coming up
                 among a bunch of young adults who hang out in a Manhattan coffee lounge? A
                 better title for that show would be "Creeps."

                 Of all the returning sitcoms, "Spin City" - centered on the daily adventures of the
                 lovably goofy mayor of NYC and his colorful staff - faces the toughest challenge.
                 To ignore or not to ignore, that is the unanswerable question.

                 And then there is "Sex and the City," HBO's hit sitcom centered on the days and
                 nights of four single women living in Manhattan. It may be the one comedy equipped
                 to deal with New York's new reality, given the show's established willingness to
                 explore the darker sides of its characters' lives.

                 The situation is a little different for dramas such as "NYPD Blue" and the
                 soon-to-be three "Law & Order" shows. Designed to traffic in gritty realism, both
                 franchises have a tradition of mirroring the day's headlines in their plot lines. But the
                 terrorists' destruction of the World Trade Center is more than can be contained in
                 an episode or two.

                 Even though the fall season was delayed until next week, the fact is that premiere
                 episodes are already in the can.

                 In TV's immediate future, these shows will be echoes and reflections from a New
                 York City no longer there. For a while, at least, New York-based shows will be -
                 like the voice-mail messages of passengers calling on cell phones from those
                 doomed flights - electronic artifacts of a lost civilization

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