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Hollywood Regroups After Sept. 11 Attacks - 2001-11-11

The terror attacks of September 11 are having an impact in Hollywood, as they are throughout the U.S. economy. Mike O'Sullivan looks at some of the changes underway in the entertainment business.

Hollywood's initial response to the attacks September 11 was subdued. Television shows with violent themes were withheld from broadcast and the release of several action films was delayed. One movie, Arnold Schwarzenegger's Collateral Damage, may never be released. It deals with a terror attack in New York, not unlike the one that occurred September 11.

The creator of the television show The West Wing, which concerns a fictional U.S. president, wrote a special episode that dealt with terrorism. Other shows will deal with the theme in coming months. Producer Steven Bochco says his popular police series, NYPD Blue, is referring to the attacks in current episodes.

"Doing a New York-based cop show, of course you can't pretend that didn't happen," Mr. Bochco explains. "You wouldn't want to pretend that didn't happen. So we went back into the body of our first several shows and put in referential material to September 11."

The producer says he is dedicating the series this season to the police officers and firefighters who lost their lives in the terror attacks in New York. He says several episodes will address the new threat that Americans face.

"It gets incorporated into the body of the show the way all of us in life incorporate it into our lives, which is you go on about your business and there are moments in a day or conversations of thing you read in the paper or see on television that momentarily put you in mind of the fact that we're living in a somewhat different reality," says Mr. Bochco. "And then once acknowledging that and/or dealing with it, you get on about your business."

Producer Mike Medavoy has held top positions at several Hollywood studios, including United Artists, Orion Pictures, which he co-founded, and Tristar Pictures, where he was company chairman. Mr. Medavoy says there is little production of feature films in Hollywood today for reasons unrelated to the attacks. Earlier this year, producers anticipated labor problems as contracts were renewed for both writers and actors. Studio executives hurried to finish their films before the contract deadlines. There were no strikes in the industry, but the flurry in production early in the year led to a lull by September.

"So there's a respite. Everybody's got time now to take a deep breath and recover," he says. "Once that's done, I think everything will become clear and people will know what kind of product to produce."

Some speculate there will be demand for patriotic films, while others expect to see more light comedies. Most analysts say the public will decide what kind of films they want and the studios will produce them.

Cody Cluff is president of the Entertainment Industry Development Corporation, which acts as liaison between local governments and the $30 billion entertainment business. He helps studios get the permits they need to film on the streets of local communities.

He notes that one-fifth of Hollywood's film production had moved outside the country, mostly to Canada, where costs are lower. But many actors and producers now want to stay close to home and some production, especially for television, has come back to Los Angeles.

"Right now, following September 11, we see a return of some of the television production that was happening outside of the state," Mr. Cluff says. "So where we've been strong for the last four or five years is in television. It's actually increased about five percent. Commercial production is down because of the weakening economy and the drop-off of all the dot-com advertising."

Most analysts see a continued slump in commercial advertising. But Mr. Cluff says production of feature films, while slow, will increase because many in the industry want to stay in Los Angeles.

Financial incentives in Canada, which include substantial tax rebates and a favorable exchange rate, may make that impossible for many budget-conscious producers.

But one local economist says that Hollywood does well when times are difficult, and he notes that domestic box office revenues are running 10 percent ahead of levels last year. The analyst says whatever happens in the real world, people need to be entertained, and entertainment is the business of Hollywood.