Without Warning is a Halloween TV special which follows in the tradition of Orson Welles' 1938 radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds by presenting a story about an alien attack on the Earth in the form of a live breaking news broadcast. It was first broadcast in the United States on the CBS network on October 30, 1994. It stars the journalist Bree Walker and the veteran anchorman Sander Vancour, recently retired at the time that the program first aired, as fictionalized versions of themselves. Footage of the well known science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke is used to make it appear that Vancour is conducting an interview with him about the possible nature of extraterrestrial life.
The program prompted some calls to TV stations which were carrying it, and ones which were not carrying it, asking if the events depicted in it were real and some accusations of CBS being irresponsible for having shown it. The program was only shown once on TV in the United States but has been shown frequently in other countries and released on DVD.
The title card and a few minutes of a murder mystery called Without Warning are shown. The program is interrupted by a news flash, saying that there has been an earthquake in Wyoming. Normal programming resumes again for a short while but is soon abandoned, in order to stay with breaking news of the earthquake.
It is reported that the town of Grover's Mill, Wyoming has been destroyed by a meteor strike and that similar strikes have taken place in southern France and a remote area of China. In both France and Wyoming, a single survivor is found, a young man in France and a small girl, who had gone missing from a city hundreds of miles away, in Wyoming. They are both badly burned and making unintelligible sounds. A scientist announces that he thinks that the mathematical precision shown in the three simultaneous meteor strikes mean that they were caused by an alien intelligence.
Signals being transmitted from the sites of the three meteor strikes prevent aircraft from flying above them. A larger object is seen heading towards the North Pole. Ignoring the protests from leaders of other nations, the United States acts alone in using nuclear weapons to destroy the object. The scientist who had been seen earlier announces that the initial three meteor strikes were an attempt at first contact by the aliens and that the destruction of the larger object will be seen as a declaration of war.
Three more meteors are observed, heading directly for Washington D.C., Moscow and Beijing. Nuclear weapons are launched, the meteors are destroyed and the reporters on location in the three cities are greatly relieved.
It is reported that the girl in Wyoming and the young man in France have both died. It is revealed that, when played simultaneously, the sounds made by the two people form part of the message recorded by the Secretary General of the United Nations and launched on the Voyager space probes in 1977. The speech is incomplete because a third survivor in China was never found.
The relief of the news anchors and the reporters in Washington, Moscow and Beijing is short lived. Hundreds more asteroids are seen heading to locations all over the world. There are too many of them and they are coming too fast for it to be possible to destroy them. The destruction of the Earth is inevitable. A rumble is heard outside the television studio and the picture cuts to static.
On its first airing, Without Warning was preceded by an introduction which stated that the following program was to be a fictional drama. Further announcements that the program was a fiction appeared during each commercial break. Graphics used in the program are similar, but not identical, to those used by CBS News at the time that the program was made. The actors Jane Kaczmarek and John de Lancie, whose faces would be familiar to many viewers, have prominent roles in the drama. Nevertheless, CBS affiliates received many calls from viewers asking if the events in the program were real. NBC, ABC and Fox affiliates also received calls, asking why they were not showing the important news being carried by CBS.
CBS affiliates in Detroit, Michigan and San Diego, California both chose not to air the program.
The program was only shown once on television in the United States. It remained unreleased on home video until its DVD release in July 2003. However, the program has been aired in other countries. It has been shown several times on HBO Asia and on the Sci-Fi channel in the United Kingdom, minus the reassuring messages during commercial breaks that the events are fictitious. Anecdotal evidence, such as comments on the Internet Movie Database, suggests that the program continues to frighten people who mistake it for real news on its repeat showings around the world, although many viewers realize it is a fiction when they hear references to 1994 and President Bill Clinton.
- Ghostwatch a 1992 BBC TV drama which was mistaken for a live documentary by many viewers in the UK.
- ↑ A reference to Orson Welles' 1938 radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds, in which the Martians land in Grover's Mill, New Jersey.