The case of former FBI Agent Robert Hanssen was turned into a CBS movie script just 24 days after he was arrested for espionage last year and billed as “the portrait of a man accused of spying for the Russians.”
The network has taken more time to turn its interpretive eye on the September 11 terrorist attacks. But the tide has turned, apparently.
Now, four months after the events, a docudrama is officially under way, to be crafted by Lawrence Schiller, a veteran filmmaker who has already transformed the Hanssen, O.J. Simpson and JonBenet Ramsey cases into CBS miniseries in past years.
The working title is “The Real Story of Flight 93,” dramatizing the United flight that crashed in rural Pennsylvania in “real” time, with an emphasis on American unity and behind-the-scenes official action rather than speculative depictions of onboard events.
“The project is under development,” said CBS spokeswoman Susan Marks yesterday. “But there is no air date yet”
Mr. Schiller said he will base his treatment on “very, very confidential sources” he developed while filming the Hanssen project.
“A TV movie about September 11 really is inevitable. The attacks were an intergenerational cultural experience which was bound to make its way into the mill,” said Robert Thompson, a broadcast communications professor at Syracuse University.
“But it seems a little too quick for the sacred aura of this event to have disappeared already,” Mr. Thompson added. “Flight 93 is perhaps the least offensive way to dramatize the story because it did not go down at ground zero, and there are many questions about what really happened. This allows for some fictional license.”
Some have had their eye on the terrorist attacks for some time.
Oliver Stone, a filmmaker occasionally cited as a historic revisionist for his takes on John F. Kennedy and the Vietnam War, claimed “a major news magazine” asked him on September 12 about his ideas for a film about the attacks.
“I’d like to do a bullet of a movie on terrorism,” Mr. Stone said during an October film symposium in New York. “If it were done realistically, it could be a fascinating procedure. I don’t buy this concept of staying away.”
Others are starting to agree.
Viewers are starting to want more than “comfort food” TV these days, said Sarah Timberman, president of Studios USA, during a meeting of television writers this week in Los Angeles.
Still, “people are wary of being perceived as commercially exploiting this tremendous tragedy,” she said.
At least two other TV movies are under development about the attacks, including one from Alliance Atlantis Entertainment, a Canadian company that created CBS’ popular “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” The group hopes to produce a docudrama about the terrorists and their lives before the attacks of September 11.
They are approaching the project with caution, however, well aware that real events have superceded any Hollywood treatment in the mind of the public.
News coverage has been so hard-hitting, noted company President Peter Sussman, that “it’s hard to imagine a fictionalized version of it being as impactful.”
Contact Jennifer Harper at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202/636-3085.