On Wednesday morning, reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward of the Virginia TV station WDBJ7 were fatally shot during a live broadcast. Alleged killer Vester Lee Flanagan, a former colleague of the victims, died in the hospital from a self-inflicted gunshot wound that afternoon.
In light of these tragic events, the USA Network announced that it would postpone the first-season finale of the thriller series Mr. Robot—scheduled for broadcast Wednesday night at 10 p.m.—because it "contains a graphic scene similar in nature" to the Virginia shootings. The episode will air on September 2 instead.
The unfortunate parallelism of real-life horror with pop culture is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it's at least 16 years old. Two episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, one of which was originally slated to air a week after the Columbine High School massacre in April 1999, were pushed back in sensitivity to the disturbingly familiar nature of their subject matter.
In the first of these, "Earshot," Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) develops telepathic abilities, which allow her to read the mind of a troubled student contemplating killing his classmates. She ultimately finds Jonathan (Danny Strong) loading a rifle in the school clock tower, only to learn that he had intended to commit suicide, not murder.
The WB also controversially preempted the planned third-season finale of Buffy, "Graduation Day," because it depicted the destruction of Sunnyvale High School in an explosion.
More recently, in the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, NBC—also citing the previous December's Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut—chose not to air a first-season episode of Hannibal in which children are brainwashed into murdering other children. The episode was never broadcast, but clips were made available on NBC.com.
ABC also postponed an episode of Castle with a bomb-centered plotline that week. Previously, the Newtown tragedy motivated Syfy to delay an episode of Haven that depicted school violence.
This effect isn't strictly limited to television. The July 2012 mass shooting at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater showing of The Dark Knight—for which James Holmes was sentenced to life in prison without parole today—led Warner Bros. to pull the trailer for Gangster Squad, which featured a scene in which characters opened fire on an audience from behind a movie screen. This sequence was subsequently cut and the film was reshot before its release, which was pushed back four months to January 2013.
Molly Fitzpatrick is senior editor of Fusion's Pop & Culture section. Her interests include movies about movies, TV shows about TV shows, and movies about TV shows, but not so much TV shows about movies.