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Entertainment: The year of September 11

The death of the young, up-and-coming actress and singer Aaliyah shocked the industry and fans alike.  
1. News programming takes over television following September 11. Full story

2. George Harrison, the "quiet" Beatle known for his spirituality, dies. Full story

3. Reality shows dominate the airwaves early in the year before tapering off by December. Full story

4. Big-budget movies have disappointing runs. Full story

5. Julia Roberts, the queen of Hollywood, finally wins an Oscar. Full story

6. Tom 'n' Nicole keep the tabloids nattering with their separation, divorce and movies. Full story

7. Fears of talent strikes (that never materialize) prompt Hollywood studios to rush some projects. Full story

8. J. Lo sings (a No. 1 album, "J. Lo"), acts (a No. 1 movie, "The Wedding Planner") and provides tabloid fodder (the breakup with Puffy, the whirlwind marriage to Chris Judd). Full story

9. HBO enjoys the lion's share of water-cooler TV series and picks up an Emmy for "Sex and the City." Full story

10. Mel Brooks' musical "The Producers" sweeps the Tonys and gives Broadway audiences something to cheer about. Full story
 

(CNN) -- Before September 11, 2001, if you had asked Americans to explain al Qaeda, you might've received a blank stare.

But if you had asked those same Americans their favorite film, TV show, CD or actor -- well, the conversation would most likely begin.

Before the terrorist attacks in September, we were engaged in a world where entertainment served as a national topic of choice, where weekend box office receipts, TV ratings and Grammy controversies seemed to matter.

It was a world where water-cooler chats didn't include theories on the whereabouts of known terrorists -- they simply focused on the revealing wisp of cloth J. Lo wore to the latest awards gala, or whether or not Tom and Nicole would get back together.

Before September 11, Americans typically dined on sweet- and-sour entertainment news like candy. But the crimes committed on that day had a profound effect on the entertainment industry and the consumers who buy it.

Suddenly, perspective seemed to reappear.

Suddenly, reality shows such as "Survivor" didn't seem so real, and they lost their heat in the ratings.

Suddenly, the glitzy Emmys were so connected to the dangers of a post-September 11 world that organizers twice postponed the show, and had everyone dress down once the event was held.

Television executives pushed back their fall lineups. Some networks cut out any reference to the World Trade Center or terrorism. But some shows, such as NBC's "The West Wing," developed scripts in reaction to the attacks.

Movie studios reconsidered their action-adventure films. One, Warner Brothers, delayed the release of the film "Collateral Damage," which follows a man (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) who seeks revenge on terrorists for killing his family.

Meantime, debate focused on whether irony -- so often found in mass entertainment this generation -- was dead (especially after David Letterman, in response to the attacks, abandoned his trademark humor and shed tears in front of his "Late Show" audience).

Celebrities -- from music to film to TV -- donned American flag T-shirts (without irony) and took part in benefit concerts and telethons in the name of raising money to help victims of September 11.

In short, September 11 was the entertainment story of the year. But there were other stories -- before and after that day -- that caught our attention and held it.

On November 29, the week before the anniversary of his good friend John Lennon's death, former Beatle guitarist George Harrison passed away at 58 after a long battle with cancer.

Tributes took place around the world, and baby boomers felt a little bit older. But there was an odd twist to Harrison's send-off -- this quiet, spiritual Beatle, who believed in the powers of peace and love, left a world embroiled in a new war.

  ALSO
EW:• Year in Review 2001
People:• Most Intriguing 2001
TeenPeople:• Stars 2001
InStyle:• Best of 2001
TIME:• Best and Worst of 2001
 

Harrison was a star that had risen, while Aaliyah was a star on the rise. But the singer/actress' life ended in August when a plane carrying her and eight others crashed in the Bahamas.

Aaliyah, 22, had just released her latest hit album; she was set to star in the sequel to "The Matrix." The outpouring of grief was startling -- one fan admitted, "She probably never had an inkling as to how many people loved her."

The year also witnessed a double-dose of that oh-so- tabloid story -- the celebrity couple split.

Rap mogul Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, who was embroiled in a highly publicized trial connected with a New York nightclub shooting, announced on Valentine's Day that his relationship with Jennifer "J. Lo" Lopez, who earlier in the year topped record charts and movie box office rankings in the same week, had ended. Front-page reports ensued.

Before the year was out, Combs had been acquitted of the charges in his trial, and Lopez had married dancer Chris Judd.

Not to be outdone in this category, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman -- one of Hollywood's most popular couples in the 1990s -- announced their split in February. While news outlets speculated on the reason (and reported Kidman's apparent miscarriage in March), the couple moved on.

Kidman was soon promoting her two new summer films, "Moulin Rouge" and "The Others." Cruise even showed up at the August premiere of "The Others," which he co-produced, though he and Kidman didn't speak to each other at the event.

Cruise, meantime, has been romantically linked to his "Vanilla Sky" costar, Penelope Cruz.

The year also had a few "you really love me" moments.

Julia Roberts won her first Oscar for her lead role in "Erin Brockovich."  

At the Grammys in February, controversial rapper Eminem, whose raps bashed gays and women, won best rap album and best rap solo performance. He also performed his hit song "Stan" with Elton John -- who is gay -- singing backup.

At the Academy Awards in the spring, Julia Roberts -- after years spent as the reigning America's Sweetheart of actresses -- finally won her first best actress Oscar for "Erin Brockovich."

Giddy in her win, Roberts accepted the honor and gushed, "Thank you, thank you ever so much. I'm so happy. I love the world! I'm so happy! Thank you!"

As summer approached, it looked as if pending strikes by actors and writers would turn into the Big Entertainment Story of the year. How would it affect a troubled economy if actors didn't get paid, and Americans didn't have their steady diet of film and TV shows?

The question was never answered because the strikes never happened. Deals were reached, for now.

Summer saw the Broadway musical "The Producers" win 12 Tonys. And on the music front, media outlets considered the apparent declining sales of boy-band CDs. The Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync had new releases, but failed to match their late-'90s MTV glory.

Was the end of an era at hand?

It turns out it was -- but it had nothing to do with boy bands. The attacks of September 11 changed the American landscape, from New York to Hollywood.

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