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The Post 9/11 Drama Five Years On

By RD Heldenfels Published: June 14, 2006

Yesterday kind of got away from me. Morning telephone interviews with Tavis Smiley and the Son of Ghoul, mailbag questions, writing the Smiley story for Thursday's paper, some family business,  an afternoon meeting, a little more Anderson Cooper ... Days fill up, and they don't always feel as if we control them.

I was thinking about that lack of control later when plowing through a couple of more pilots -- NBC's ''Kidnapped,'' Fox's ''Standoff,'' and adding them to a vibe I had already gotten from ''Vanished'' and ''Jericho'' and ''Justice'' and currently-on one-word shows like ''Lost'' and ''24.'' Even two-worders like ''Prison Break.'' And that this all had to do with 9/11.

I'm not talking about specific links to terrorism in shows (although there is some of that) as much as about the sense that, since 9/11, people feel vulnerable to arbitrary and unpredictable forces -- exemplified by a sudden, ruthless kidnapping or a hostage taking or, in the case of ''Jericho,'' a nuclear attack.

Hand in hand with that idea is the one that our system is still ill-equipped to handle those things -- assuming our system wants to handle them at all. Think of the high-reaching political forces at work in ''24'' and ''Prison Break.'' ''Vanished'' involves the disappearance of a U.S. senator's wife, a disappearance that soon pivots on how little the people in the show know about each other. in ''Kidnapped,'' the taking of a wealthy man's son leads not only to questions about how well law enforcement works but a hint about that something much bigger than a kidnapping is going on.

And, even though TV is dominated by shows about law enforcement and prosecution, this fall brings ''Justice,'' about defense attorneys -- which quickly makes the argument that the innocent need good defenders against relentless prosecutors (while simultaneously admitting that the public doesn't like smart defense attorneys in theory).

That's not all that's on TV, of course. There are shows that contend the system is working, at least when it's in the hands of capable and dedicated people. (Choose your own ''CSI.'') But I still think we're seeing a prolonged reaction to 9/11 and, perhaps, to the Iraq war. You could even argue that ''West Wing'' finally ran down and ''Commander in Chief'' didn't catch on because most viewers no longer believe that politicians can solve problems -- especially when ''24'' is pointing to them as a source of trouble.

There's something for further discussion here. For one thing, ABC's fall pilots landed on my desk just today. But this is what's spinning in my head right now. Any comments?

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