After tragic events like the Paris terrorist attacks, pleasure seems mocking, futile, and crass. If pop culture is a collective dream, then the dream, after an assault on our liberties, becomes suspended… at least for a while. It happened after the Columbine shooting in 1999, and again following the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001.
Terrorism affects entertainment’s sense of what’s funny, thrilling, appropriate, and acceptable. While fictional terrorism has been a staple of TV and movies for years, when plots, scenes, and narrative arcs mirror tragic real-world events, networks often pull the unfortunately timed episodes out of sensitivity and respect. In many cases, the show goes on, albeit weeks or months later. Here are 10 times terrorism turned off TV.
10. Mr. Robot – Virginia Murders
In August the scheduled season finale of Mr. Robot, the popular drama series on the USA Network, was postponed because of a graphic scene reminiscent of the on-air shootings of a television news reporter and cameraman in Virginia. “Out of respect to the victims, their families and colleagues, and our viewers, we are postponing tonight’s episode. Our thoughts go out to all those affected during this difficult time,” said a spokesman for the USA Network. A repeat of the penultimate episode was aired instead. The season finale aired a week later, its graphic content no less disturbing because of the delay.
9. Legends – Paris Terrorists Attacks
TNT postponed an episode of its spy drama Legends in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris. The episode shows a terrorist shooting at a large crowd in Paris and was deemed insensitive in lieu of current events. “Our thoughts and condolences are with the victims and their families,” TNT said in a statement to Variety.
Spy and terrorism-themed dramas often mirror real-world events. 24 premiered two months after 9/11, and it functioned as a sort of wish-fulfillment fantasy of good guys fighting terrorism around the world. While Legends decided to postpone its Paris-centric episode, dramas such as Homeland and Quantico were broadcast unedited with disclaimers about their terror-themed content.
8. Hannibal – Newton and the Boston Marathon Bombings
The fourth episode of NBC’s serial killer series Hannibal, starring Mads Mikkelsen as the cannibalistic killer first seen The Silence of the Lambs, was pulled out of sensitivity to the victims of Newton, Connecticut and the Boston marathon bombings. Brian Fuller, the executive producer of Hannibal, asked NBC to pull the episode, which features guest star Molly Shannon brainwashing children on how to take the life of other children. “Although the Hannibal story is unrelated to real world events,” said Fuller, “the intent is to be sensitive to where we are as a nation.” While the episode was never aired on network television, NBC later let fans view it via iTunes.
7. NCIS: Los Angeles – Paris Terrorist Attacks
CBS switched out an episode of NCIS: Los Angeles following the terrorist attacks in Paris. The episode scheduled to air revolved around a search for a teenage girl who was recruited into a terrorist organization. ISIS is notorious for its social media tactics and recruitment videos, luring alienated and disenfranchised immigrants from the poor suburbs of Paris, Brussels, and Turkey to take up the jihadist cause. The Islamic State’s recruitment strategies are alarmingly effective, promising the spiritual reward of playing a role in something larger than oneself. Estimates suggest that ISIS recruits 20 new members a day. The group has more than 50,000 militants in Syria alone, and most of the fighters are between 15-20 years old.
6. Castle – Boston Marathon Bombing
According to The Hollywood Reporter, ABC rescheduled an episode of Castle featuring a “pressure bomb storyline” after the Boston marathon bombing. The episode, tilted “Still”, was scheduled to air on April 22 but was postponed to the following week. “Still” features the team attempting to disarm a pressure-sensitive bomb that Beckett accidentally steps on. Castle wasn’t the only show affected by the Boston marathon bombings. Fox pulled an episode of Family Guy –”Turban Cowboy”-from its website; the episode features Peter Griffin running over marathoners with his car in an attempt to win the race.
5. Jekyll & Hyde – Paris Terrorist Attacks
In response to the Paris terrorist attacks, UK broadcaster ITV decided not to air the latest episode of the drama Jekyll & Hyde. According to Radio Times magazine, episode four was pulled because of scenes of violence involving firearms. Charlie Higson, the creator of Jekyll & Hyde, took to Twitter to announce the postponement. Earlier this year Jekyll & Hyde came under intense scrutiny after more than 450 complaints were issued over its violent content; the show broadcasts at 7 p.m. in the UK, a “teatime” slot that doesn’t protect younger viewers from objectionable material.
4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Columbine Shooting
In 1999, Colorado’s Columbine shooting prompted the WB to cancel an episode of the supernatural teen hit Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The ill-timed episode, titled “Earshot“, featured a schoolyard massacre and was scheduled to debut a week after the Columbine tragedy. According to a synopsis by WB, the episode featured Buffy, endowed with the ability to read minds, uncovering a potential mass murder plan at a school.
Canada’s YTV also pulled “Earshot” from its lineup. “It’s not appropriate at this time,” YTV’s Laura Heath told Jam! Showbiz. “Our programming people are parents and it’s just, as a parent, it would be offensive to air something like that.” “Earshot” eventually debuted on the WB four months after Columbine.
3. Supergirl – Paris Terrorist Attacks
Following Friday’s terror attacks in Paris, CBS canceled a planned episode of Supergirl that was scheduled to air on Monday night. The episode, titled “How Does She Do It?“, centers on a series of urban bombings in National City, a plot whose similarity echoes the horror that took place in the City of Light. Out of respect for the victims of the Paris attacks, CBS aired the “Livewire” episode that was set to premiere on November 23. According to The Hollywood Reporter, “Livewire” revolves around Kara’s relationship with her foster mother. Supergirl is a hit for CBS; with over 13 million viewers, it was the most watched debut of the 2015 fall season.
2. Academy Awards – Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
In 1968, the 40th Academy Awards was postponed for two days because of the assassination of Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. The Board of Directors, headed by Gregory Peck, decided to delay the telecast out of respect for those mourning King. Sammy Davis Jr. best summed up the mood when he appeared on The Tonight Show a day after King’s assassination. “I certainly think any black man should not appear. I find it morally incongruous to sing ‘Talk To The Animals’ while the man who could make a better world for my children is lying in state,” he said. Several key people involved in the Oscars that year including Davis Jr., Sidney Poitier, and Rod Steiger said they wouldn’t attend unless the date was changed.
After the horrors of 9/11, there was a prediction that America’s taste in entertainment would forever be changed. Newspapers were filled with countless think pieces about the “death of irony” and new cultural boundaries. There were TV and movie cancelations and postponements. The original poster for Spider Man, which featured the Twin Towers reflected in the hero’s eyes, was quickly recalled. Paramount pulled trailers for its sci-fi action film The Core, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Collateral Damage was postponed four months, an episode of The Simpsons was pulled from syndication, and even an episode of Friends was rewritten and reshot. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Music and radio was affected, and Major League Baseball postponed all games through September 16. Still, while terrorism briefly turned off the TV and altered show times at the local multiplex, research shows that America’s taste in entertainment never changed at all.