Nets set 9/11 specials

NEW YORK — Five years after the 9/11 attacks that changed the nation, U.S. networks will mark the event with a variety of in-depth explorations. It’s a shift from the straightforward memorializing that characterized the first anniversary.

“A year later it was too raw,” said CNN terrorism expert Peter Bergen. “After five years, I think we have some perspective, but it may still be too soon.”

In the coming weeks, networks from ABC and CBS to the History Channel and Discovery will be parsing 9/11 on its fifth anniversary.

Topic gained added urgency through the thwarted attempt to blow up trans-Atlantic aircraft last week — a reminder that the terrorists had their own plan to mark the occasion.

The brutality of 9/11 was captured in unprecedented detail by amateur photographers, news crews and documentary filmmakers that day. The second plane, the burning towers and their eventual collapse were witnessed by hundreds of millions on live TV.

Those images and the subsequent investigations serve as the source material for dozens of specials, documentaries and miniseries in the coming weeks.

Perhaps the most ambitious programming initiative is ABC’s attempt to dramatize the 9/11 Commission Report with the two-night, four-hour miniseries “Path to 9/11.”

Conceived two years ago, the production stars Harvey Keitel, Shirley Douglas and Patricia Heaton. It sports a cast of 247 and lensed in 20 countries.

“It was an enormous undertaking,” said ABC Entertainment prexy Steve McPherson, who consulted former network chief Brandon Stoddard, producer of 1983′s “The Day After,” the net’s nuclear cautionary tale.

The first two hours of the mini will air on Sunday, Sept. 10, at 8 p.m. Part two, also two hours, goes the next night at 8, followed by a 60-minute ABC News special hosted by “World News” anchor Charles Gibson.

Miniseries will air with limited commercial interruption. “Some things you do for commerce and some things because they are the right thing to do,” McPherson said.

Also Sunday, CBS is bringing back an updated version of the “9/11″ docu produced by brothers Gedeon and Jules Naudet and firefighter James Hanlon.

CBS said it won’t censor language in the doc, shot by the brothers who were filming at a firehouse in lower Manhattan when the attacks took place.

Update includes additional interviews with survivors. A total of 39 million people watched “9/11″ the first time it aired.

The two 9/11 specials will go up against NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” in Gotham on Sept. 10, when the Giants play host to the Indianapolis Colts.

Also on CBS, Katie Couric will preside over her first primetime special for the network, the one-hour “Five Years Later: How Safe Are We,” on Sept. 6, the day after she takes over as anchor of the “CBS Evening News.”

NBC will air an updated version of the “Dateline” special “Flight 93″ on Sept. 11, including new interviews and audiotapes from the hijacked plane that was crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pa.

New York City will honor 9/11 with what has become a sad annual tradition: the reading of the names of the 2,749 dead at Ground Zero, with moments of silence marking the times the planes hit the towers and the times each tower fell.

Following the first moment of silence, at 8:46 a.m., churches throughout the city will toll their bells. At sundown, the city brings back the Tribute in Light, twin beams shining up into the heavens, marking the approximate places where the towers stood.

The cable-news networks will spend all or part of Sept. 11 broadcasting from lower Manhattan, carrying some or all of the ceremony live.

Fox News Channel kicks off coverage called “9/11: The Day America Changed” over the weekend, and Jon Scott will start anchoring coverage at 8:30 a.m. Monday from Ground Zero.

Most of Fox’s primetime will also originate from Ground Zero, with Neal Cavuto, Shepard Smith and Greta Van Susteren doing live shows at the scene.

CNN will air a new documentary, “CNN Presents: In the Footsteps of bin Laden,” reported by Christiane Amanpour and partially based on Bergen’s book, “The Osama bin Laden I Know.”

“American Morning” will cablecast from Ground Zero, as will some of CNN’s primetime lineup. CNN’s “Pipeline” broadband service will be free for the day.

MSNBC’s “Hardball With Chris Matthews” will do a week of remembrances of 9/11 from politicians and public figures including Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell; Matthews will also host an hourlong live special, “9/11: The Day That Changed America,” at 10 p.m. on Sept. 11.

From “Countdown to Ground Zero” to “Inside the Twin Towers,” cable TV has created docus geared both to providing information and to stirring emotions.

History Channel’s biggest project is the two-hour “Countdown to Ground Zero,” which ran Sunday on the web, with a repeat scheduled for Sept. 11. Charles Maday, senior VP of programming for History, said “Ground Zero” traces the events of 9/11 in grim detail, with a focus on individuals caught up in the tragedy. Re-creations with actors of some incidents are meant to heighten the drama.

“The Miracle of Stairway B,” which premieres tonight on the History Channel, is a more straightforward one-hour docu focusing on 14 people who were trapped inside the North Tower of the World Trade Center after it collapsed. They describe on camera how they escaped.

Channel takes a scientific approach with its two-hour Sept. 10 docu “American Vesuvius,” which compares the collapse of the Twin Towers to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.

Jane Root, exec VP-general manager of Discovery Channel, said she commissioned “Inside the Twin Towers” two years ago with the goal of “blending in-depth journalism with filmmaking that creates the feeling of being on the scene.” Two-hour special runs Sept. 3.

Discovery has chosen 9/11 as the fulcrum for “The Price of Security,” Ted Koppel’s first program since he joined the network earlier this year. It’ll run for three hours on Sept. 10. First half consists of a docu on whether civil liberties will suffer in an era of stepped-up national security; second half will be a live town meeting in which a studio audience will question a panel of experts. Discovery will also repeat on Sept. 3 its Emmy-nominated “The Flight That Fought Back.”

Another Emmy-nommed special, National Geographic Channel’s four-hour “Inside 9/11,” will return on Aug. 27 with updates.

National Geographic also has two original docus on tap, “Triple Cross: Bin Laden’s Spy in America,” on Aug. 28, and “The Final Report: Osama’s Escape,” on Aug. 29.

John Ford, exec VP of programming for the channel, said both specials will stick to the facts and avoid partisanship.

Another deeply researched exploration of the facts is “On Native Soil: The Documentary of the 9/11 Commission Report,” narrated by Kevin Costner and Hilary Swank. Court TV’s joint venture with Lionsgate will run on Aug. 21 for the full 90 minutes without commercial interruption. The next day, Lionsgate will release the DVD with 30 minutes of extra footage.

Marc Juris, Court TV’s head of programming, said the docu captures the essence of the “9/11 Report,” a thick volume that he suspects most Americans didn’t have time to read.

A&E will run on Sept. 9 the ABC-produced one-hour “Trapped in the Towers: The Elevators of 9/11.” On Sept. 7, A&E will rerun its two-hour docudrama “Flight 93.”

Sundance Channel has scheduled three back-to-back docus on Sept. 11: “Koenig Sphere,” about a work of sculpture at Ground Zero that survived the attacks; “Dust to Dust: The Health Effects of 9/11″; and “September 11,” an anthology of 11 shorts made by filmmakers from around the world.

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