By DONNA PETROZZELLO
Daily News Staff Writer
Barring last-minute changes, NBC will air an episode of "The West Wing"
that includes a story line about a journalist held hostage — one eerily similar to the
real-life situation of kidnapped Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.
In the episode, titled "Night Five," an American reporter is ambushed and
hostage by rebels while on assignment in Congo. Back in the fictional West Wing,
press secretary C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney) lobbies for the journalist's release.
The plot mirrors the plight of Pearl, 38, who disappeared on Jan. 23 after
going to Karachi,
Pakistan, to interview an Islamic militant for a story about alleged shoe bomber Richard Reid.
President Bush and White House officials have ordered Pearl's kidnappers,
communicate by e-mail, to release him. Wall Street Journal managing editor Paul
Steiger and Pearl's pregnant wife, Mariane Pearl, have pleaded for his freedom.
NBC Entertainment president Jeff Zucker said that the episode was written
December, well before Pearl went missing. He also said that NBC programmers have
not considered pulling tonight's show.
NBC executives did shelve a "West Wing" promotion last weekend that highlighted the reporter story line.
"After seeing that promo on the air, in light of what is going on in Pakistan,
that the subject isn't something we want to plug on a daily basis," said Zucker.
"We just didn't feel comfortable promoting it, given the real-life situation
Pearl," he added. "We didn't want anyone to think we were trying to exploit that."
Zucker said NBC decided instead to promote another story in tonight's show
that revolves around a speech that White House communications director Toby
Ziegler (Richard Schiff) is writing.
The speech condemns Islam and is meant to be the first draft of an address
President Bartlet will deliver to the United Nations General Assembly.
It's the second time this season "The West Wing" has dealt with issues
Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Shortly after the attacks, show creator Aaron Sorkin wrote
and produced a special episode on terrorism, which kicked off the delayed fall season.
This time, however, the fictional story was not inspired by real life.
"Certainly, the missing reporter will attract a lot of attention, but the
speech that Toby
has written is incredibly dramatic," Zucker said, "and I expect that it will raise as many
eyebrows as the story line involving the reporter."
Original Publication Date: 2/6/02