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After the fall: How TV and film coped with the loss of the Twin Towers image

The fall of the WTC left many TV and film producers with difficult decisions: should they remove any images of them, or leave them intact?

ONE OF THE reasons that the fall of the World Trade Centre is such a potent and lingering symbol is because of how they dominate so many depictions of the New York skyline.

As one of the best-known vistas in the world, the rooftops of Manhattan were shown in countless TV series and films – leaving many with some delicate decisions to make in the aftermath of the attacks, choosing whether to retrospectively edit scenes featuring the towers’ image.

Here’s a selection of some of the depictions of the Twin Towers in popular culture – where some images were later removed, while others continue to live on screens around the world.

After the fall: How TV and film coped with the loss of the Twin Towers image
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  • The Simpsons

    The Simpsons memorably visited New York in 1997, when Homer had to collect his car - left by Barney Gumble at the foot of the towers. Needing to visit the bathroom, he ascended up the entirety of one tower - only to find it out of order, and having to dash to the summit of the second. Fox decided not to withdraw the episode from circulation, though many US affiliates still decline to air it while others show it with many WTC references - though it airs regularly worldwide, including on RTÉ. Fox's NYC affiliate aired the entire show, uncensored, within a fortnight of 9/11.
  • Family Guy

    Though Family Guy adopts the usual cartoon formula of ensuring its characters never age, newer episodes have acknowledged the chain of events in real life. In a 2000 episode Peter Griffin jumps off one building as part of a musical number - while in 2002, a panoramic tour of New York (drawn up before 9/11) digitally altered the buildings to make them look more generic, and less like the WTC buildings. In 2008, the Griffins visited Ground Zero on a road trip - causing Peter to gasp, "Wow, so this is where the first guy got AIDS."
  • Sex And The City

    The first four series (of six) of the TV serialisation of Candice Bushnall's novel include a depiction of the World Trade Centre behind Sarah Jessica Parker's name. For series 5 and 6, aired after 9/11, the image was instead replaced with a shot of the Empire State Building. The first episode filmed after the attacks was an indirect tribute to the city, placing heavy focus on some of the city's defining cultural aspects.
  • The Sopranos

    The Sopranos followed its HBO stablemate's lead in changing its theme. For the first three series, an image of the WTC could be seen in the reflection of Tony Soprano's mirror during the opening credits. From series 4, it had been replaced with a general Manhattan skyline - while Tony made reference to the attacks in subsequent on-screen dialogue.
  • Friends

    The New York-based sitcom featured many shots of the Twin Towers between scenes - giving producers a difficult choice to make. Title cards had been changed between series anyway, but it was decided that later episodes would still include shots across the Towers, though not finishing on them. The final episode, aired in 2004, made a point of featuring one sequence which ended on a lingering shot of the WTC.
  • The West Wing

    The 9/11 attacks occurred 19 days before the third series of The West Wing was due to air. Feeling that the initial plotline - about President Josiah Bartlet's personal illness - was out of touch with the new climate, writer Aaron Sorkin write and produced a special non-sequential episode 'Isaac and Ishmael' responding to Islamic terrorism. In it, the fictional White House is under lockdown fearing a potential follow-up attack, while senior staffers discuss the motivation of Islamic terrorism with visiting teenagers. The episode aired in the slot originally set aside for the series premiere, and was widely lauded for its mature approach to sensitive subjects.
  • Spider-man

    One of the first teaser posters for the 2002 film Spider-Man - released before 9/11, naturally - included a small image of the Twin Towers being reflected in Peter Parker's eyes. The poster had only been issued days before the attacks, and was withdrawn after them - making the poster a collector's item. A similar trailer showed Spidey weaving a web between the towers to capture a helicopter carrying two absconding criminals - but that trailer, too, was removed. (Other images of the Towers reflected in Spidey's eyes, in the movie itself, were left intact.)
  • The Toxic Avenger IV

    Not a very high-profile example - and one that sits uneasily among the rest of this collection - but one that became oddly symbolic to New Yorkers. This film was one of the first to get a major premiere after 9/11, and unlike other producers who chose to doctor images of the Twin Towers out of their work, producer Lloyd Kaufman decided to leave his intact - with audiences reportedly whooping in delight when the images were first shown.
  • The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

    "There were no jobs available for a man in the foetal position under his desk, crying." With those lines, The Daily Show's Jon Stewart returned to air, two weeks after the attacks had forced him into a 9-show hiatus. In a monologue which often descended into tears, the revered satirist admitted: "Television is nothing if not redundant… we do it so we can drain our hearts of whatever abscess is in them… I'm sure we're getting right under the wire before the cast of Survivor comes in." Though the attacks had been horrific, he said, the US's response was the embodiment of Martin Luther King's dream to judge people on their character. "That's why we've already won… they can't shut that down." His monologue closed with the admission that the view from his apartment had formerly been of the WTC: now it was of the Statue of Liberty. "You can't beat that," Stewart sniffed. Watch the video here.

About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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