A Touchy 'West Wing'
              Tonight's plot resembles Pearl situation
 

              By DONNA PETROZZELLO
              Daily News Staff Writer
 

                  Barring last-minute changes, NBC will air an episode of "The West Wing" tonight
              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 taken
              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, who
              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 in
              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, we decided
              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 of Daniel
              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 that
              President Bartlet will deliver to the United Nations General Assembly.

              It's the second time this season "The West Wing" has dealt with issues surrounding the
              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

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