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9/11 and TV drama: Have we tuned out already?

On this anniversary of 9/11, the ho-hum critical and ratings reaction to J.J. Abrams' new Fox drama Fringe raises serious questions about our shared memory of that traumatic event seven years ago.

I remember how in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 I pounded the phones calling the best writers and producers in Hollywood asking them how they thought popular culture would respond to the national trauma.

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We all agreed that everything had changed and we would never forget what happened on 9/11, because TV, the principal storyteller of American life, would not let us. The small screen, we were told, would be filled with dramas metaphorically recalling the event for the rest of our lives.

But it now looks like we were wrong.

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Tuesday's premiere of the Abrams new thriller about an FBI investigator and the unorthodox fringe sciene she uses in trying to thwart a global conspiracy, drew an audience of only 9 million viewers. That's less than half the audience for the premiere of Abrams' ABC drama about life after a catastrophic event, Lost.

Abrams describes his new show as a reponse to the terrorist times in which live, and in that regard, it is much like Fox's 24, which resonated with the darkness and angst of 9/11 America like no other prime-time drama for several seasons. But even this terrorist-thriller starring Keifer Sutherland is in decline.

Last season, 24 did not make the cut to come back after the writers' strike. And while it is scheduled to return with a two-hour episode in November and then a full time weekly slot on Fox in January, there is not much anticipation. Like the debut of Fringe, 24's last season drew mixed reviews and stumbled in the ratings.

So, what's going on?

Here is my take: Just as we have tuned out feature film and TV depictions draamatizations of the war in Iraq, I think we no longer want to be reminded of 9/11 when we sit down in front of the tube at night. We want our escape, our diversions, our games shows and reality TV. And the one thing we know about commercial TV: It will give us what we want; not what we need.

I have to admit I am suprised that it happened this fast.

(Above: AP File Photo by Marty Lederhandler)

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