"The FBI has informed us that, in view of the recent tragedies in New York and Washington, D.C., they have received an unverified report threatening Hollywood film studios," reads an internal bulletin circulated at Paramount and obtained by E! Online.
Citing "an uncorroborated report threatening Hollywood film studios," Universal Studios issued a staff-wide memo saying, "We are tightening and increasing our security in cooperation with the FBI and local law enforcement."
Similar messages were circulated at other movie studios, television networks and talent agencies throughout Tinseltown, with frenzied staffers quickly forwarding the email warnings to colleagues, friends and the news media. Although most studios remained open to employees (the CBS lot was briefly shut down for "security purposes"), several studio entrances were barricaded, studio tours were indefinitely called off and studio audiences--a staple of game shows, talk shows and sitcoms--were sent home.
Despite the city-wide scare, an FBI spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., initially suggested the studios might have been overreacting. The agency did meet with studios reps, but "there was nothing specific [discussed] in terms of threats," the FBI spokeswoman says. "There wasn't anything that came from this press office or the FBI that said, 'Hey, you guys better be prepared for something.' It's more of a 'be aware' notification. [But] people might have taken it for something more than that."
However, later Thursday, the FBI had changed its story. "Today, the FBI provided a threat advisory to the major movie studios in Los Angeles," reads a statement issued from the FBI's Los Angeles field office. "The uncorroborated threat states that a film studio in California could be the target of a terrorist bombing attack in retaliation for any possible bombing attacks by the United States against Afghanistan. In an abundance of caution, the FBI has provided this threat advisory. The FBI is working closely with the studios regarding this matter."
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one studio source said Attorney General John Ascroft had briefed Motion Picture Association of America president Jack Valenti earlier in the day and mentioned a suicide-bombing threat. Valenti then related the info to studio bosses.
The Hollywood community, which, much like the rest of the nation, has been on edge since last week's terror incidents, might be even more tense as it prepares for Friday's America: A Tribute to Heroes--an unprecedented, superstar-laden telethon to benefit the postattack relief effort.
The two-hour live event, to be jointly produced in both New York and Los Angeles by ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, will air simultaneously on the four networks at 9 p.m. ET and will also be carried by E!, BET, Comedy Central, Court TV, Discovery, Fox Family, FX, HBO, Lifetime, MTV, PAX, PBS, Showtime, Sundance Channel, Telemundo, TLC, TNN, TNT, the WB, Univision, UPN and VH1.
U2, Sting, Limp Bizkit, Celine Dion, Wyclef Jean, Willie Nelson, Jane Kaczmarek, Enrique Iglesias and Jimmy Smits have just been added to the high-powered roster, which already included Bon Jovi, Amy Brenneman, Jim Carrey, George Clooney, Sheryl Crow, Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, the Dixie Chicks, Robert De Niro, Clint Eastwood, Calista Flockhart, Dennis Franz, Kelsey Grammer, Tom Hanks, Faith Hill, Billy Joel, Alicia Keys, Conan O'Brien, Tom Petty, Ray Romano, Julia Roberts, Paul Simon, Will Smith, Bruce Springsteen, Sela Ward, Robin Williams, Stevie Wonder and Neil Young.
(updated 9/21/01 at 7:35 a.m. PT)