Inside move: Nets taking on terrorism

Skeins like 'Agency,' 'West,' 'Watch' prep topical episodes

After initially avoiding any and all mention of terrorism in the wake of Sept. 11, network programmers and producers are slowly starting to deal with the topic again.

CBS has just locked in an Oct. 11 airdate for an episode of its new CIA drama “The Agency” that tackles bioterrorism — specifically, a potential anthrax attack on the U.S.

Fox is now promoting its action thriller “24” as a series that revolves around a counterterrorism expert (Keifer Sutherland).

Over at NBC, the Peacock is heavily promoting Wednesday’s special stand-alone episode of “The West Wing,” which will address themes related to terrorism. And on Monday, the net announced plans for a three-week run of episodes of “Third Watch” dealing with issues related to the Sept. 11 attacks.

CBS had planned the anthrax seg of “The Agency” to air last week, as the skein’s second episode, but delayed its broadcast in the wake of news events (Daily Variety, Sept. 24.)

But “Agency” exec producer Wolfgang Petersen said that, after an appropriate delay, it was important for a show about the CIA to in some way reflect the real world.

“Instead of walking away from it, we’ll get into it,” he said. “That’s what (the CIA) is dealing with.”

A CBS spokesman echoed Petersen, saying a show about the CIA needs to deal with real-world issues “or it isn’t being honest with its audience.”

There’s no word yet on whether CBS will air the original “Agency” pilot, which revolves a terrorist plot masterminded by Osama bin Laden.

Meanwhile, the Warner Bros. TV-produced “Third Watch,” from exec producer John Wells, had a very good reason to deal with Sept. 11: It revolves around Gotham emergency workers.

As a result, a special unscripted edition of the skein, in which the show’s fictional cast will interact with actual NYC emergency workers, will serve as the third season premiere of “Third Watch” on Oct. 15. The next week, skein will return to scripted form with an episode about the day before Sept. 11; on Oct. 29, the show will tackle the aftermath of the attacks.

Wells declined to discuss the special “Third Watch” segs.

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