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Reality Television

In the advertising industry, it is often difficult to distinguish fact from fiction, reality from unreality. On Sept. 11, at almost 10 in the morning-a full hour after terrorists crashed two hijacked passenger jets into the World Trade Center's twin towers, Joe Abruzzo, director of marketing and research at Media Edge, kept a business appointment at his office near Times Square. While the rest of the Media Edge staff gathered in front of TVs and computer monitors to watch the nightmarish images, Joe's research staff, including Ephraim Goldstein and Lyle Schwartz, soberly demonstrated their sales response and scatter marketplace modeling systems to a visitor. The executives were not being insensitive and oblivious; they were just trying to maintain their composure in the middle of an improbable crisis.

Just outside, Times Square came to a standstill. Thousands helplessly watched the towers crumble on the enormous Jumbotron and ABC News video screens. The images looked like a trailer for a bad disaster movie and people shook their heads in disbelief and in despair. The reality, meanwhile, could be seen by turning south, where billowing clouds of smoke and ash rose above downtown and rolled down man-made canyons.

At that point, many people tried to flee the city, but the tunnels had closed, and the bridges were shut to traffic and the only way out was to walk or cross the water by ferry. After waiting for three hours in lines that snaked up and down the West Side Highway, some people boarded boats to Hoboken, Weehawken and Jersey City. For a moment, after climbing on board, things seemed safe and settled. But as the awkward vessels crossed the strangely quiet Hudson River, they were forced to stop and wait for open slips, bobbing helplessly in the water for up to an hour. All eyes were fixed on a Manhattan skyline choked with dense smoke. An elderly passenger on one of the ferries screamed out, "It can't be real! It can't be."

But it was.

A freelance art director named Alisoun Meehan later told of a physician friend who had volunteered in the rescue effort downtown, and who narrowly escaped the collapse of the towers. He came across an elderly man sitting on a bench, covered in ash like so many survivors, from head to toe. The man was in a prone position. It was hard to tell if he was alive or dead. The doctor rushed to help. "Are you okay?" he asked. The man did not answer. And he did not move. He was a sculpture, "Man on a bench" by George Segal. Without skipping a beat, the doctor moved on. He didn't have time to ponder the awful irony of the moment. There was too much to do, too many real lives to save.

A Tragic Loss

The New York office of Bartle Bogle Hegarty was among the many agencies affected by the tragedy. The shop recently won the much sought-after advertising account for the relaunch of eSpeed, an electronic trading service owned by Cantor Fitzgerald. The agency was set to break the service's maiden corporate branding campaign today. Espeed was on the 105th floor of One World Trade Center. As of late week, Cantor had only accounted for 270 employees, mostly people who were on vacation or on business trips. Cantor had approximately 1,000 employees in the building.

"Unfortunately, a number of people we worked closely with have not been accounted for," said Cindy Gallop, president of Bartle Bogle, New York. "A group of our people are helping look for Cantor employees in the hospitals and the morgue." The campaign, of course, was pulled.