9/11 fell on a Tuesday, the day when normally we “One Life to Live” writers met to start planning the new week of outlines. Monday we met to get notes on the previous week, and Wednesday was the day when we finished laying out. By 2001, I was commuting to NYC from Connecticut, staying over Monday and Tuesday nights at the Harvard Club and taking the train back to Old Saybrook on Wednesday night. On Tuesday morning I had breakfast in the club and went up for a quick work-out in the gym, where the attendant in the reception area told me that a plane had just flown into one of the World Trade Center towers. I pictured a Piper Cub or the like smashing into a tiny portion of the building’s facade and continued on my way.
I chose a running machine and began to jog. The TV hanging before me was tuned to CNN. They were showing footage of the first plane hitting a tower. My God, this was no Piper Cub but a huge passenger plane. I slowed the speed on the machine and watched the screen in rapt horror. They went to a live shot of the towers, as a second plane flew into frame and exploded into the other tower. The CNN announcers reacted as you might expect, except that they launched at once into naive speculation that this was some sort of coincidental double mechanical or guidance failure of the two planes. Within a minute, an aviation expert was on audio, saying, “No way this was an accident. Visibility today is two miles. Those planes were flown into the towers on purpose.”
Adrenaline hit me hard. Some primitive part of my brain must have taken over, because I wasn’t thinking, just acting. I raced back to my room, packed my laptop, threw stuff in my bag and ran the three blocks to Grand Central. The next train to New Haven was the 9:49. I bought a ticket and boarded along with hundreds of other stunned-looking souls, and the train was quickly filling. I moved to the first car which was less crowded. The woman conductor came over the PA, her voice tight with panic. “We’re leaving now,” she said. I checked my watch. It was well shy of 9:49. “Clear the doors,” she said. “Clear the doors! There’s another train after this one.” She never collected my ticket. I still have it.
En route to New Haven, cell phones still worked, and I connected with my partner Tim. He was crying because I was alive. He told me the towers had just collapsed, and I felt a wave of nausea come over me.
There was no writers’ meeting that day, or that week or the next. The studio went dark. When I returned to work, it was with a great sense of trepidation. Things that used to seem routine, like passing through Grand Central, now felt fraught with danger. As I left the studio Wednesday night, that first week back at work, our writers’ assistant looked up at me, forlornly, and said, “You’re so lucky. You get to leave.”
(SoapOperaNetwork.com) — On September 11, 2001, the world witnessed the worst terrorist act in American history. It is a day none of us will ever forget. For the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, I asked those who were working within the soap opera industry if they would like to share their thoughts and memories about that horrific day. Here are the stories from former soap writers Tom Casiello, Tom King, and former soap writer/producer Lisa Connor.
Tom Casiello: “I remember being alone in my apartment that morning, standing in my bedroom getting dressed when the first plane hit.”
Lisa Connor: “I was producing at “AMC” at the time. The morning was perfect. I remember walking down West End Avenue and thinking ‘this is the most perfect day’.”
I was producing at “AMC” at the time. The morning was perfect. I remember walking down West End Avenue and thinking ‘this is the most perfect day’. The sky was the most beautiful blue and the temperature perfect for New York in September. I was in my office with the ABC feed on when the first plane hit. I remember thinking it was a horrible accident when one of our PA’s came in and said “that was no accident.” I went up to the control room to start taping and was sitting there, talking with the Technical Director about the plane that went into the first tower when the second one hit. That’s when everything went haywire. People refused to keep working — they had loved ones down there and couldn’t focus. My Executive Producer was away on a rare vacation and because I was in the booth that day, I was in charge of the day. I called everyone to the floor and saw fear — felt it myself — and I suggested we join hands in prayer. I don’t remember what was said in that vein. I know there were tears and people were shaking. But we were together. I told everyone not to leave the building as we didn’t know what was waiting for any of us outside.
So we hunkered down and by around 5-6pm, we decided it was safe for everyone to start heading home — everyone from the city, that is — as the roads out of Manhattan were all closed. I seem to remember having a few people stay at my apartment and everyone who lived in the city offered their sofas/floors/rooms to those not living in the city as well. But since we’d all been through such a trying day, I thought it would be a good idea not to hide in our apartments but to be, as many put it during that time, New Yorkers — meaning that we wouldn’t shrink from this but instead would join together and find comfort in being out among our neighbors. A group of us did just that by having dinner at Isabella’s up on Columbus Avenue — and the place was packed. Eating and talking and laughing and being together — all of us — not just from “All My Children” — but New Yorkers, refusing to let this horrible tragedy keep us down. It was a day and night I will never forget.
Tuesday mornings at “As the World Turns” usually meant all the writers, producers, CBS network folks, and P&G executives gathering in a conference room to turn pages from the breakdowns written last week, and sit through hours of notes. It was usually a day of neuroses and worry for any writer as our words were picked apart.
I remember being alone in my apartment that morning, standing in my bedroom getting dressed when the first plane hit. My roommate called from her office in Midtown, and we shared a far-more-nervous-than-either-of-us-wanted-to-admit chuckle about some moron who didn’t know how to fly before we hung up. Curiosity got the better of me, and I headed up the fire escape to the roof of my building. I live right over the Manhattan Bridge in Brooklyn, so the Towers were right there in front of me when the second plane hit. At that point, over the undercurrent of worst-case scenarios flowing through my head, I had only one screaming thought pounding away – You. Have. To. Get. To. The. Studio.
JC Studios is much farther out in Brooklyn, closer to Coney Island than Manhattan. My friends… my family… the people I’d spend most days and nights with working and playing and laughing and producing and practically LIVING with were all out there. I needed to get away from downtown Manhattan and get to THEM. I called the car service we used, and at that point, the city was still about twelve minutes away from complete and total panic, so I was still able to get a car sent to my apartment. I packed up what I believed were the most important things in my life: my keys, my MetroCard, my Palm Pilot, three DVDs, a laptop… and an 88-key Casio keyboard. (Why the keyboard? I have absolutely no idea – all I know is that it made sense at the time.) The car picked me up – and by then, the march of people coming over the bridge had begun.
I got to the Brooklyn studio before the first tower fell. A few writers had made it in, our executive producer, and a few of the network executives. I remember being completely shell-shocked watching the Towers fall on the TV, while the executives decided that we should have the notes meeting anyway. I remember frantically scribbling notes in the margin about whether or not to tag a scene on Barbara almost catching Carly designing clothes for her fashion house, or to save that moment for the next act, as New York City fell into chaos on the television above, all the while thinking to myself “Does any of this matter right now??” (In the executive’s defense, I also lugged a full electric piano with me all over Brooklyn that day – people do strange things in those circumstances. There’s no explaining it.) I spent the rest of the day and night at that studio, sitting in offices with my co-workers and best friends, watching TV and wondering “When is it safe to go home? And do I even want to go home?” When I finally did, there was an inch of ash on my fire escape – the wind had taken it right over the water onto my apartment. I didn’t sleep that night – I was up until sunrise contacting everybody I knew to tell them I loved them. And I cried. A lot.
Ten years later, I choose to remember September 11th not by the acts of terrorism, or by the fear and anger, or by the ridiculous notion that how we tagged a scene with Barbara and Carly mattered at all in that moment. Instead, I remember the bonds of friendship with the other writers and production staff I felt that day. I remember that day by embraces. By a hand holding mine. By a shared look. By finding ways to even get a smile out of the person crying next to me. By holding on to the Oakdalians stuck at the studio for dear life and not letting go – and the way they did the same for me. (Even as they were saying “A keyboard, Tom? Seriously?” and I’d respond with “Dude, I just sat through the network meeting!” – yeah, those are the smiles I was talking about before.) There was so much dread that day, but I don’t focus on that now. Rather, I focus on the bonds that were cemented that day between myself and the cast/crew of “As the World Turns.” Their friendship, their warmth, and their unrelenting compassion got me through that day… and later that week when we had to keep writing, even as I was walking back over the bridge to help in any way I could, I remember the phone calls and e-mails and the way we all just pulled together, even as we had to face working. (My favorite network note from the following week’s breakdowns was “Why is every character in these outlines crying or angry or both?” )
But the show… and the city… must go on. Even now, to this day, those of us stuck in the Brooklyn studio that day remember the horror and the tragedy and the almost-insurmountable sadness… but above all of that, there’s a shared sense of connection. Of odds overcome. Of friendship and family. A bond that can never be broken.
That’s the only way I want to remember that day.