Sunday, December 30, 2001

Television


Sept. 11 forced viewers to do a reality check

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        The 2001 television year can be summed up in two words: Reality TV.

        For the first eight months of this year, the talk of TV was the nation's fascination with inexpensive, unscripted dramas and game shows.

        Survivor: The Australian Outback had blown a big hole in NBC's untouchable Thursday night lineup. The Mole, Fear Factor, Weakest Link and Temptation Island were irresistible to millions of viewers.

        Then came Sept. 11. After watching the first live television broadcast of an attack on U.S. soil, the term “reality TV” had new meaning.

        For one week in September, TV was our reality. What we remember from this tragedy are the TV pictures — the 110-story World Trade Center exploding in flames; the twin towers collapsing like sand castles; the bucket brigade of firefighters and rescue workers looking for survivors; the candlelight vigils for the missing.

        After Sept. 11, we knew that our biggest Fear Factor wasn't being covered with rats. It would be desperately calling loved ones on a cell phone from a hijacked jetliner or a towering inferno.

        After a fireball consumed the World Trade Center, we knew that Survivor host Jeff Probst was wrong: Fire does not mean life.

        Everything else pales by comparison. So forgive me if I don't do a top 10 list, but here are several other memorable TV events and milestones:

        Survivor: CBS gambled and won big in February, beating Friends with the first Survivor series to run during the regular TV season. Though he didn't win, Crittenden native Rodger Bingham became a national celebrity because of Survivor 2.

        CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: Being paired with Survivor on Thursday boosted the whodunnit to No. 3 this fall, behind Friends and ER, while Survivor slipped to No. 6.

        Friends: Competition revitalized the eighth — and quite possibly last — season of the NBC sitcom. Cast members will decide by April whether to call it quits.

        Who Wants to be a Millionaire: Has ABC killed the golden goose? Ratings for Reege's game show dropped 50 percent this fall, 18 months after it was the No. 1 show on TV. ABC executives say Millionaire may be dropped from the prime-time schedule next fall, when a half-hour syndicated Millionaire is offered to stations.

        Late Show with David Letterman: Explaining that New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani implored folks “to go back to our lives,” Mr. Letterman resumed his Manhattan-based show a week after the World Trade Center attacks. Anyone who saw it won't forget his somber, nervous remarks — or seeing anchor Dan Rather cry (twice) while talking about the attacks.

        The Concert for New York City: Five weeks after the attacks, rock 'n' roll greats Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Billy Joel, The Who and James Taylor converged on New York for a spectacular 5 1/2-hour benefit concert aired commercial-free on VH1. The front rows were reserved for police and fire officers, who held photos of co-workers lost in the World Trade Center.

        Repurposing: Get used to this word. It's what networks call repeats of prime-time shows on cable, like the Fox reruns of 24 Sundays and Mondays on FX.

        ABC repeats Alias noon-10 p.m. Tuesday on the ABC Family Channel, followed by Whose Line Is It Anyway at 10 p.m.

        When ABC bought the Family Channel in July for $5.3 billion, ABC executives said they would repeat, or “repurpose,” prime-time shows on cable. ABC's deal with affiliates allows it to rerun 25 percent of its prime-time schedule on cable, plus repeat ABC News programs.

        Fox executivescall 24 cable reruns the “new economic model.” To viewers, it's what cable TV has done for years. Expect to see more in the new year.

       



DEMALINE: Theater
GELFAND: Classical music
- KIESEWETTER: Television
MCGURK: Best movies of 2001
NAGER: Pop music
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