The Show Goes On

By Published on .

Turn on the television tonight and you'll see few signs that the world of entertainment was hanging by a thread less than a year ago. David Letterman has returned to interviewing cast members from Survivor, contestants on Fear Factor continue to chow down on bugs and the cast of Friends is still sipping their coffee from big mugs. But on closer examination, you'll see that what Americans want from entertainment has subtly shifted. Today, a year after the terror attacks, Americans are more attracted to TV shows and movies with spiritual themes and plot lines that address family values. We tune in more often to the nightly news and to newsmagazines. And many of us still feel uneasy whenever we encounter images that too closely resemble the tragic events of last fall.

According to an exclusive survey conducted for American Demographics by online market research firm Harris Interactive between June 20 and 26, 2002, 43 percent of Americans admit that a television show or movie has made them feel uncomfortable in the past year because of material that was similar in nature to the Sept. 11 attacks. A quarter (26 percent) of the 2,050 adults who responded to our poll say that even today they find themselves upset by certain movies or TV programs.

“People go into a trance when they watch TV,� says Dr. Joyce Brothers, author and noted psychologist. “The brain is actually quieter when watching television than it is when dreaming, and thus their guard is down and their fear breaks through.� Because the terrorist attacks created more widows than widowers, says Dr. Brothers, women were able to put themselves in the shoes of the victims' families and have thus been most likely to suffer from this type of shell shock. Indeed, fully 55 percent of females, compared with 29 percent of males, say that the images in a TV show or a movie have caused them to feel uncomfortable at least once in the past year. And 1 in 3 women (35 percent) are sometimes still emotional today, compared with just 16 percent of men.

Older adults are also having a hard time disconnecting Hollywood fiction from real life events: 31 percent of those age 50 and older admit they still feel uncomfortable while watching some TV shows or movies, whereas only 18 percent of adults under 30 say the same.

It's no surprise that the emotional toll struck hardest in the Northeast and the South. That's because so many people in the regions were actually able to visit the sites of the attacks in Pennsylvania, New York City and Washington, D.C., says Dr. Brothers. “Anytime you are physically farther away from a tragedy, you are less likely to suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder,� she says. According to the survey, 29 percent of Northeasterners and Southerners say certain television shows or movies still cause them anxiety at times, compared with 22 percent of Westerners and 23 percent of those in the Midwest.

Anxiety attacks or not, Americans are not shying away from television or films. In fact, 1 adult in 10 says they're watching TV and going to the cinema more often these days than they did before the attacks, according to the American Demographics/Harris Interactive poll. But they're not necessarily watching the same type of entertainment as they did before 9/11, finding certain movie themes and categories of TV shows more engaging now. Specifically, a quarter of all adults (24 percent) say that spiritually uplifting films appeal to them more today than they did prior to Sept. 11. Family movies and documentaries also have more appeal, with 23 percent and 22 percent of adults, respectively, saying they are more interested in these types of films.

Older adults and women have been increasingly drawn to the warm and fuzzy uplifting and family genres since Sept. 11, whereas men and young adults are more interested in films with darker themes like war and terrorism. “It just makes sense,� says Mark Gill, president of Miramax in Los Angeles. “American men want movies that are exciting, and today, terrorism is exciting. Women are running away from those types of movies because they have enough reminders of terrorism from the nightly news.�

Indeed, just 5 percent of women say they are more interested in watching a movie about terrorism or a hijacking today, compared with 10 percent of men. Younger demographics are also more attracted to such motion pictures. Almost a quarter (22 percent) of the all-important 18- to 24-year-old movie audience, and 10 percent of those ages 25 to 29, say they are more interested in terrorism and hijacking films today than they were before the attacks. Fewer than 5 percent of adults age 40 and older share that interest.

Wartime epics, still favored more by men than by women, have a slightly broader appeal. In fact, 1 in 6 men (17 percent) and 1 in 10 women (10 percent) are more interested in seeing a wartime epic now than they were a year ago.

Still, many women would be happier seeing a film that engaged their hearts and souls. Fully 32 percent of women say that spiritually uplifting films are more appealing today than they were before the attacks. Only 16 percent of men say the same. Similarly, 29 percent of adults age 40 and older say that they are more interested in family films, compared with just 17 percent of adults under age 30.

Knowing what film genres appeal to different demographic groups, and how that has changed since Sept. 11, is certainly valuable information, Gill says. However, he adds, it's unclear how much emphasis to place on these new consumer attitudes because you can't always predict how long they will last. Since films are shot a year or more before their release, it is difficult to deliver movies geared toward the current consumer pulse. In a way, then, not much has changed in Hollywood since the attacks, says Gill. “What we're doing today is what we've been doing all along. We're trying to make smarter movies, movies with a brain and a soul,� he says.

Meanwhile, on the small screen, where changes in response to shifting consumer tastes can be made more swiftly, many Americans say they are watching more news broadcasts (36 percent), newsmagazine shows (23 percent) and documentaries (21 percent). But viewers don't just want the facts; comedies and family programs are also enjoying a surge in popularity: 17 percent of respondents to the American Demographics/Harris Interactive survey say they are watching comedies more today than they were before Sept. 11, and 13 percent are watching more family-oriented shows.

Noting last season's successful shows, like Friends (NBC) and Everybody Loves Raymond (CBS), Brad Adgate, senior vice president of research for New York City-based Horizon Media, says, “The banal things that happen in a family-based comedy have been a real comfort to viewers over the past year.�

In an effort to keep viewers tuned in post-9/11, cable news executive hired several well-known network news personalities, says Adgate. Indeed, since Sept. 11, both Connie Chung and Paula Zahn joined the ranks at CNN, and Phil Donahue made his return to television on MSNBC. These changes will increase appointment viewing on cable news channels in the long run, predicts Adgate. “After the Gulf War, we thought CNN would hold on to its high ratings because news had become a part of people's routine; they got so used to watching news for the duration of the war,� he says. But the opposite occurred, he says. Two weeks after the U.S. pulled out of Iraq, CNN's ratings returned to prewar levels. “Cable news networks are trying to prevent that from happening again,� Adgate says. “Getting a Connie Chung or a Paula Zahn — broadcasters who already have a following — increases CNN's threshold of viewers, even when there is no [breaking] news to report.�

News and newsmagazine shows have enjoyed a greater rise in popularity among women since the attacks. According to our survey, 40 percent of women (versus 33 percent of men) say they watch the news more now than they did a year ago. And 28 percent of women say they're watching more Dateline, 20/20 and other newsmagazines today than they did before the attacks, compared with 18 percent of men.

Of course, television and cinema are not the only forms of entertainment. There are also Web pages to browse, newspapers and magazines to read, and shopping to do. Nearly a quarter of adults (24 percent) tell American Demographics that they are spending more time surfing the Net since Sept. 11. Many are also reading the newspaper more often (17 percent), listening to the radio more (12 percent) and spending more time reading magazines (8 percent). Very few Americans say they are spending more time shopping (5 percent), going to concerts (3 percent) or attending sporting events (3 percent). In fact, 13 percent of respondents to the survey say they are going to concerts less often, just as 11 percent said they are shopping less and 10 percent are going to fewer sporting events.

“People still don't want to be in areas where there are a lot of people,� explains Dr. Brothers. Even the Mall in Washington, D.C., had far fewer people in attendance for the Fourth of July festivities this year than in years past. In the end, says Dr. Brothers, “You still want to be safe at home.�

What time is Raymond on?

Comfort Me

Spiritually uplifting films, family films and documentaries grew in popularity in the past year. Wartime epics, animated films, slapstick comedies and boy-meets-girl type movies also experienced a net gain in appeal since Sept. 11. Films about terrorism or hijacking as well as those with blood and gore horror, appealed to fewer Americans.


Spiritually uplifting 24% 3% 16% 3% 32% —
Family movies 23% — 15% — 32% —
Documentaries 22% 2% 23% - 22% —
Wartime epics 14% 9% 17% 5% 10% 12%
Animation 12% 3% 10% — 15% 3%
Slapstick comedies 12% 3% 11% — 13% 4%
Boy meets girl 8% 3% 4% 3% 12% 3%
Terrorism/Hijacking 8% 23% 10% 19% 5% 27%
Murder mysteries 5% 4% 5% — 5% 6%
Blood and gore horror — 14% — 12% — 16%
— Sample size too small.
*Numbers may not sum 100 percent because some respondents said a movie genre appeals to them the same today as it did before or that the genre never appealed to them.
Source: American Demographics/Harris Interactive

Inform Me

A year after the attacks, Americans are still watching more news on TV, but they're also watching more comedies, family shows and documentaries. What programs have lost viewers? Reality TV, game shows, talk shows and soaps.


News 36% 6% 33% 3% 40% 9%
Newsmagazine 23% 8% 18% 7% 28% 8%
Documentaries 21% 4% 20% — 21% 6%
Comedies 17% 3% 15% 3% 18% 3%
Family shows 13% 3% 7% — 18% —
Legal dramas 8% 5% 5% 5% 11% 5%
Reality TV 7% 12% 6% 12% 8% 11%
Police dramas 7% 6% 5% 5% 9% 7%
Variety shows 6% 6% 5% 6% 6% 7%
Game shows 5% 11% 3% 11% 7% 11%
Talk shows 5% 14% 4% 12% 6% 15%
Soap operas 2% 11% — 9% 3% 13%
— Sample size too small.
*Numbers may not sum to 100 percent because some respondents said a television genre appeals to them the same today as it did before or that the genre never appealed to them.
Source: American Demographics/Harris Interactive


Hispanics are the most likely to have felt uncomfortable in the past year while watching television or movies with material that is similar in nature to the September attacks.


I have felt uncomfortable in the past year watching a TV show or movie because material is similar in nature to Sept. 11. 43% 43% 35% 51%
I no longer suffer those feelings 17% 16% 21% 22%
I still suffer those feelings 26% 27% 14% 29%
Not once since Sept. 11 has a television show or movie caused me to feel uncomfortable due to similarities to the terrorist attacks. 57% 56% 65% 49%
*Hispanics can be any race. Source: American Demographics/Harris Interactive

Movie Magic

Box office receipts at movie theaters nationwide have risen dramatically in the year since the attacks.

Fall 2000 (9/15/00 - 11/16/00) $928,563,624
Fall 2001 (9/14/01 - 11/15/01) $1,053,655,313 +13%
Holiday 2000 (11/17/00 - 1/1/01) $1,299,958,898
Holiday 2001 (11/16/01 - 1/1/02) $1,348,135,863 +4%
Winter 2001 (1/2/01 - 3/8/01) $1,366,473,074
Winter 2002 (1/2/02 - 3/14/02) $1,547,540,692 +13%
Spring 2001 (3/9/01 - 5/24/01) $1,283,615,843
Spring 2002 (3/15/02 - 5/23/02) $1,698,212,247 +32%
Summer 2001 (5/25/01 - 7/15/01) $1,497,196,820
Summer 2002* (5/24/02 - 7/14/02) $1,694,978,578 +13%
Total year to date 2001 (1/2/01 - 7/15/01) $4,147,285,737
Total year to date 2002 (1/2/02 - 7/14./02) $4,940,731,517 +19%
*At press time, the summer 2002 season had not concluded. Comparable figures were used for summer 2001 and summer 2002.
Source: Nielsen EDI
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