In an eerie case of unfortunate timing, Hollywood woke up on September 11, 2001 to a front-page story in Variety by Deadline’s Mike Fleming announcing Terror, an NBC miniseries from Law & Order creator and quintessential New Yorker Dick Wolf. The premise was a massive terrorist attack on New York City that would draw together the casts and characters of all three of Wolf’s L&O series. That same morning, the real-life terrorist attacks on NYC’s World Trade Center shook up the nation and changed America. They also changed the course of several projects Wolf had in the works, one of which went from a reality series pilot to an Oscar-winning documentary.
But it was Terror, which was in pre-production at the time after nine months of meticulous research, writing and deal-making, that almost put crew members at the epicenter of the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil. Here are Wolf’s memories of that fateful morning:
I was in NY prepping a five-hour miniseries called Terror for NBC, which was due to start shooting September 25. It started in Afghanistan with a classroom of 10-year-old boys saying ‘God is great, death to America.’ The older brother was coming to America to be a ‘great hero,’ then we cut to the brother and three other terrorists going across the Canadian border, to set a bomb under the Times Square shuttle, and killing 2500 people. That was the teaser. Needless to say, we did not make the miniseries.
However, there was a location scout planned for the morning of September 11. We had two options – one was to scout the underground command center of the Office of Emergency Management under the World Trade Center or go to Randall’s Island, which was our first day of shooting. The decision was made to go to Randall’s Island, where the tech scouts watched the planes go into the towers.
I was still in my apartment uptown, and watched it unfold on the Today Show. By 11:00 in the morning, people were streaming up Madison Avenue covered in dust. There was no way to describe the pain and horror. Anyone who was in New York that day was forever changed.
While Terror was swiftly scrapped following the attacks, a reality TV pilot about a New York City police squad, which Wolf’s company was working on at the time with Peter Jankowski spearheading, took a different turn when the real-life unit was decimated on September 11, with more than a dozen losing their lives. One of them, Joseph Vigiano, who died in the World Trade Center along with his brother, NY firefighter John, Jr., became the subject of the Wolf-produced documentary short Twin Towers, which won an Oscar.
Wolf’s passion to tell stories of first responders and law enforcement officers led to the hit Chicago franchise, enabling him to accomplish the groundbreaking move he had envisioned with Terror, melding characters, actors and storylines of individual series into one.