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'Are we showing the bad guys our script?'

'The Agency' finds art a little too close to reality

By Lauren Hunter
CNN Showbiz Today Reports

"The Agency"  

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- It's one of Hollywood's odd coincidences. Among the nearly 30 new shows of this fall's TV season, three series, on three different networks, are about the CIA and the covert world of international espionage.

One of those shows, "The Agency," has received a tremendous amount of attention not only for the quality of the show, but for another of Hollywood's odd -- and in this case, unfortunate -- coincidences.

Since the season officially began over a month ago, two of the four episodes that had been scheduled to air were pulled and replaced with alternate episodes. The show airs Thursday night at 10 p.m. on CBS.

"Our show seems to be too close to what's in the headlines," says Gail Katz, one of the show's executive producers. "Too close, in fact, that either it's not appropriate for viewing, as in our pilot, or that it's just perhaps too frightening or too incendiary in some ways."

Katz has an extensive background in dealing with hot-button issues. She was the producer of such films as "In The Line of Fire" (1993), "Outbreak" (1995), "Air Force One" (1997), "Red Corner" (1997), and "The Perfect Storm" (2000).

Bin Laden and anthrax

"People are asking me 'are we showing the bad guys our script?' " says Katz  

Katz said the script for the season pilot of "The Agency" was written last summer and dealt with a bomb plot by Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network. It was originally scheduled to air September 27, but pulled following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., with another episode hastily reworked to air in its place.

"It was awful. It was absolutely awful," says Michael Beckner, the creator, writer and executive producer of "The Agency," who also wrote the script for the upcoming Robert Redford/Brad Pitt film "Spy Game."

"You don't want to write something that then is mimicked in real life and causes pain and tragedy in people's lives."

Then a second episode was also too close to reality, and was also shelved.

"That episode dealt with an airborne anthrax attack over Washington, D.C., sponsored by Iraq, and as the anthrax attacks have happened here, again the decision was that this is a scary thing," said Beckner.

"People are asking me 'are we showing the bad guys our script?' " adds Katz. "It seems like they're kind of following, in some ways, things that we're doing."

What the producers, writers and actors on "The Agency" are doing is researching each storyline in detail. They read intelligence manuals, pull from actual CIA cases and confer at length with the show's consultant, retired operative Bazzel Baz.

Baz was a terrorism officer and nuclear biological chemical officer in the Marine Corps before spending 10 years with the CIA, where he received the Intelligence Commendation Medal.

"We know how the CIA works," says Baz. "If we write a script about anthrax or about a bomb, or about an assassination or about bin Laden ... it's probably going to happen."

'We need to examine the "why" '

"I feel like the validity of what we're doing has just increased ten-fold," says Bellows, who plays lead agent Matt Callan  

Despite the apparent pulled-from-the-headlines plotlines of "The Agency," those on the show say it has great relevance now, and that their roles as dramatic storytellers shouldn't change.

Gil Bellows, who plays lead agent Matt Callan, defends the show firmly. "I feel like the validity of what we're doing has just increased ten-fold," says Bellows, best known for his role as Billy Thomas on "Ally McBeal."

"There are going to be moments where our timing and the events of the world are going to intersect at an alarmingly similar level," he says, "and I think in those moments we need to examine the 'why.' If we do that, then I think we do our part in telling the story. If we just use it as a point of departure and tell some story that has no implication to the realities that have occurred, then we're not doing our job."

Rocky Carroll, who plays Carl Reese -- the liaison between the operatives in the field and the head of the CIA -- says his role on "The Agency" is a little bit like being a public servant.

"It defines what we as actors are supposed to do -- kind of take life and hold it up to a mirror and hold it back to society and say 'we're interpreting what's going on here... what do you think?' " Carroll says.

This Thursday an altered version of the show's pilot will air, with all references to bin Laden and al Qaeda deleted. Now it's up to viewers to decide how close "The Agency"'s spy game is to today's real game



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