"Anthrax" Shows Up for Sweeps

CBS's November sweeps programming includes a previously shelved episode of the The Agency about the fight to prevent the spread of the deadly disease.

By Bridget Byrne Nov 03, 2001 12:15 AMTags
CBS is bringing "Anthrax" direct to your living room.

That's the title and subject matter of the November 8 episode of The Agency, the Eye's drama about the guys and gals who go undercover to preserve our democracy.

And you just thought the scariest thing you were going to see during November sweeps was Donny Osmond eyeballing scorpions on NBC's celebrity edition of Fear Factor!

Shot in August and originally scheduled to air last month, "Anthrax" wound up on the shelf--twice. First, because of President Bush's October 12 press conference and again on October 18, following the spread of the deadly bacteria. At the time, CBS deemed the episode was inappropriate.

"With the additional cases that popped up, we just felt we didn't want to do anything that would add to the current fears," a CBS spokeswoman said at the time.

Since then, more people in the U.S. have died and been infected by anthrax (including an assistant to CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather), but somehow, the show is apparently okay to air during the key November sweeps period, when series shamelessly stage stunts to maximize ratings.

Agency executive producer Gail Katz says there was no ulterior motive for pulling the episode out of mothballs now. "We just think it's a good show. It's not a show we think is going to incite any panic," says Katz.

"It was probably always appropriate to run it; it was just that everyone was being extra careful and perhaps overly sensitive [when the first anthrax incidents occured]," she adds.

"This is a series which is dealing with reality. It has to deal with threats like this that concern us. That's what the series is about...If we are going to do this show, we must deal with things like this."

A CBS press release touting the schedule change describes the episode this way: "A Belgian kennel has fallen victim to a terrorist attack in which the deadly disease anthrax was used. When the CIA discovers the perpetrator's identity and that Washington, D.C., is his next target, the team mobilizes to stop the criminal before he can reach the capital."

We're not quite sure what the kennel business is all about, but fans will want to know about the episode's non-anthrax subplot, per the press release: "Terri joins Matt in the field for her first assignment." For those out of The Agency loop, that means Paige Turco, who plays a recent recruit, will be prominently featured alongside Gil Bellows, who plays the show's lead, Matt Callan.

The Agency, it should be noted, is clearly a survivor, at least for now. Its ratings have been deemed good enough for a full-season pickup, even though it has had to reshuffle its shows.

Aside from the "Anthrax" episode, the pilot, about a terrorist plot to bomb Harrods department store, was postponed and revamped before finally airing last night. In the altered version, the target of the terrorist attack was no longer Harrods but "a fictional London location." Producers also deleted references to Osama bin Laden, but there were several references to Al Qaeda.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to The Agency's long-term health, though, has less to do with real events and more to do with its time slot. The rookie show airs Thursdays opposite NBC's long-running ratings juggernaut ER. It remains to be seen whether the CIA is immune to those lethal County General doctors.