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From Ohio.com

Buffy The Vampire Slayer

TV after Sept. 11 - Shows about the afterlife abound

By Ellen Gray

Saturday 13 September 2003, by isa

Philadelphia Daily News

LESS THAN two months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Los Angeles Times reported that CBS was already developing a romantic comedy involving a widow and widower whose spouses had died in the World Trade Center.

That idea apparently never got very far - a few months later, CBS chief Leslie Moonves would tell reporters it never even progressed to the script stage - but the question of how TV entertainment divisions would respond in the long term to the events of Sept. 11 had been raised.

Last season, the first to be developed since the attacks, brought with it an increased law-enforcement presence. No romantic widows and widowers, but plenty of cops and prosecutors and dramatic explorations of the aftermath of terrorism and its effects on such things as civil liberties.

"24," thanks in part to a boost from Fox’s "American Idol," drew a larger audience in its second year, and rather than shying from the issues raised by terrorism, it embraced them, at one point even exploding a nuclear device (though sparing both the city of Los Angeles and the show’s hero, Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer).

So with nearly two years between us and the events of Sept. 11, 2001, where’s television taking us now?

To some stranger places than you might expect.

Sure, there are cops aplenty on TV again this season, and a beefed-up federal presence that includes shows like ABC’s "Threat Matrix," which addresses terrorism and homeland security directly, and its midseason FBI show, "Line of Fire," which includes a Sept. 11 widow among its characters.

But there’s also CBS’ "Joan of Arcadia," a drama about a teenager who hears the voice of God. From Fox, we get "Wonderfalls," about a girl who’s hearing voices coming from inanimate objects, "Tru Calling," about a girl who hears voices coming from dead bodies, and "Still Life," in which the central figure - a guy, for a change - actually is dead.

You could point to HBO’s "Six Feet Under" as the likely inspiration for this odd little trend, which also includes Showtime’s new afterlife series, "Dead Like Me," and it’s worth remembering that "Touched by an Angel" was once part of a small bump in the number of shows about heavenly messengers and the like.

Still, some producers seem more inclined to credit an America that was changed by the terrorist attacks.

"I think Sept. 11 might have had something to do" with the proliferation of such shows, "Joan of Arcadia" creator Barbara Hall ("Judging Amy") said last month.

"I think I certainly saw a lot of documentaries and things after Sept. 11 that dealt with issues of faith. And obviously this was a religious issue. I mean it not only caused people to start thinking about things in their own lives, but the fact that we were engaged in this sort of battle of religions. But I do think that for whatever reason, there is something in the air that people are willing to take a look at or have a discussion about spiritual issues," she said.

"Still Life" executive producer Marti Noxon, too, sees a connection between the events of two years ago and the coming TV season.

"I think a lot of it is a response to 9/11," the former "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" producer said. "I think a lot of people feel a lot of loss and kind of you know, what’s been going on in the world and the country is really frightening and the notion that there’s something beyond...physical death, I think is very, very compelling always," she said, adding, "There’s two inevitabilities, there’s death and taxes and TV shows about taxes are just not that interesting."

OK, so how about TV shows that try to see the lighter side of terrorism?

That’s the challenge Whoopi Goldberg’s taken on in her NBC sitcom, "Whoopi," whose cast includes Omid Djalili, a British actor of Iranian descent who recently quipped to a roomful of reporters, "I think my position here today is very important because I’m here to announce to everyone that we have five minutes to evacuate the building."

When one reporter took exception to the joke, telling Djalili, "That would be funny in another era," Goldberg stepped in.

"You want to know why we think it’s OK to do what we’re doing?" she asked.

"I think that we as a nation have come to quite a few conclusions, and one of them is that post-9/11 we have to talk about it and we have to deal with how we’re feeling," she said. "Because there’s no other way to get beyond it if you don’t then begin to turn it into something that people can deal with from their perspective. Before 9/11, no one would have said out loud, ’I see three of you guys [people from the Middle East] and I get nervous.’ But that’s the truth. And whether America wants to hear it or not, or whether they’re ready to hear it or not, remains to be seen. We feel that they are. We believe that there is nothing that we cannot talk about, because we have to."

Executive producer Terry Turner agreed.

"I think it’s something that’s on everybody’s mind. I don’t think we’re necessarily taking shots with terrorism. I know that I was never a person, I never felt I did any racial profiling, but every time I get on an airplane [now], I ’racially profile.’ It’s something that’s on my mind, it’s on my family’s mind. And what we’re doing, I think is talking about how we feel about it, our fears. I think, you know, throughout history, the way people feel is the subject of comedy, and that’s the way to approach it. And I agree with the joke that Whoopi had in the pilot, which is, ’I see three of you on the plane, I’m getting off’...That to me, said so much right in that one moment."