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AFTER THE ATTACK

'The West Wing' to Address Recent News Events

Television: The episode, set for Oct. 3, will explore issues raised by the attacks. Season premiere will air the next week.

September 22, 2001|BRIAN LOWRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NBC's "The West Wing" is delaying its season premiere two weeks to quickly produce an episode that will explore issues raised by the terrorist attacks Sept. 11.

The network acceded to the show's creator, Aaron Sorkin, who wanted to confront recent events as well as encourage tolerance of other cultures and ideas within the Emmy-winning drama, which chronicles the lives of a fictional White House staff and administration.

Executive producer John Wells said that given the program's setting, the show's producers felt compelled to address recent events, in much the same way late-night talk-show hosts have taken a moment to reflect on them.

"I don't think it was possible for us to proceed without pausing to acknowledge what happened," Wells said.

Specific details of the topical episode are being kept secret. It will be broadcast Oct. 3, with the season premiere--which was to have been televised next Wednesday--to follow a week later.

Sorkin delivered a script for the new episode to NBC officials Thursday evening, having written it in just a few days. At that point NBC approved the scheduling shift, and production of the special installment began Friday.

Because the show's second season ended in May with a cliffhanger in which its embattled President Bartlet, played by Martin Sheen, was preparing to announce whether he would seek a second term, the new episode will break from that continuity. Cast members will provide what NBC described as a "special introduction" to the episode, explaining that it is meant to stand on its own.

"I don't know if there are many people who could pull this off, but Aaron Sorkin is a passionate writer who we feel can," said NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker, conceding that the episode will have "one of the fastest [production] turnarounds in the history of prime-time television."

"The West Wing" was originally set to begin its third season Sept. 19, before virtually all regularly scheduled prime-time programs were delayed in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Most other NBC programs will premiere next week, though another NBC series produced by Wells, "Third Watch," had its premiere delayed due to logistical difficulties. The program is filmed in New York and focuses on the exploits of paramedics, police and firefighters.

Interestingly, while "The West Wing" is racing to provide an hour recognizing recent events, other programs have been busily removing scenes and dialogue that might recall the terrorist attacks.

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