Cacophony of voices dull anniversary

From Animal Planet to Showtime, TV remembers 9/11

In the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the TV industry did something extraordinary. Networks set aside traditional competitive concerns and acted in unison, orchestrating a major benefit concert under a united front.

A decade later, building toward the 9/11 anniversary, TV is not only back to its old ways but engaging in a whole new level of chaos.

So many networks have scheduled specials, movies, even entire themed weeks centered on Sept. 11 that they risk trivializing the event, making it equivalent to the way primetime series air a slew of Halloween or Christmas episodes. By dissecting the day from every conceivable angle — CNN alone has scheduled four documentaries; National Geographic Channel will devote a full week to it — the resulting din has become a noise-cancelling exercise.

There’s no shortage of stories to tell. Roughly 40 Sept. 11-related telecasts are already slated, with more to come. Topics range from the stories of ordinary people to top political figures, uplifting to sobering, a tick-tock of the day’s events to its aftermath and future. There’s even six hours from Discovery and sibling Science Channel (produced by Steven Spielberg, no less) on efforts to restore the destroyed site, “Rising: Rebuilding Ground Zero.”

In addition to the usual suspects — cable news, broadcast networks, Discovery, History, NatGeo, Smithsonian Channel — others are piling on. They include, but are not limited to, OWN, A&E, Animal Planet, USA, TLC and Showtime.

Having them arrive all in close proximity to the anniversary signals a future for Sept. 11 akin to the Kennedy assassination or moon landing. Each time the chronological interval can be divided by five or 10, expect a new deluge of “specials.”

As a critic, about all you can do in the face of such a dizzying onslaught is throw your hands up and surrender. More casual viewers can afford to be selective, although how they are to discern which projects merit their time and attention is anybody’s guess.

Of the additional channels weighing in, the only one that really makes sense is perhaps the least obvious: Nickelodeon. Linda Ellerbee will host one of her trademark current-affairs specials for children, “What Happened? The Story of September 11, 2001,” recounting the day for a demographic that was too young to have experienced its horrors first-hand, including interviews with young adults who were still children themselves when the towers fell.

“The noise around the 9/11 anniversary is going to be too loud for kids to ignore,” Ellerbee explained in a letter to critics, answering her own question, “Wouldn’t a little ignorance be blissful here?”

To be fair, the intentions of all these programs seem admirable enough, and many networks are endeavoring to be sensitive by airing them commercial-free. The scope of the event also places networks in a difficult bind. After all, who could ignore Sept. 11’s 10th anniversary, especially when its ramifications remain with us every time we go to an airport or sporting event?

The coordination witnessed in the wake of the attacks, however, would have gone a long way to bring order to the current mess. Rather than dozens of different specials, what about a handful, cross-promoted and simulcast by media congloms?

Barring that, some of the entertainment channels could easily have passed the buck to their news divisions without anyone raising an eyebrow. No one will think less of A&E or Animal Planet for sitting out the Sept. 11 anniversary. Instead, networks with no logical connection to the story have piled on, defensively or opportunistically. Either way, it’s unnecessary.

Three dozen networks simulcast the original post-Sept. 11 benefit concert “America: A Tribute to Heroes,” televised 10 days after the attacks. The goal then was to convey the message that assorted media, personalities and indeed the nation could speak with one voice, articulating the pain of the moment as well as the resiliency of the American spirit.

Ten years later, the image and memory of the twin towers coming down remains fresh for all except perhaps Nickelodeon’s demographic. Yet TV’s immersive approach to marking the anniversary unwittingly seems more reminiscent of another tower — the biblical one in Babel.

Tenth anniversary of 9/11:
9/11 lessons: Patriotic themes proliferate | A time for restraint | Foreign TV tackles U.S. tragedy | Decade’s Brit pics take nuanced look at 9/11 | Cacophony of voices dull anniversary

More Voices

  • Olivia Wilde Booksmart BTS

    Olivia Wilde on Her Move From Acting to Directing With 'Booksmart'

    Olivia Wilde began acting in 2004 when she was 20 years old. It never occurred to her that she might also enjoy stepping behind the lens. “I always wanted to make movies and be a part of the moviemaking process,” she tells me. “I always assumed acting was the way in, because for many young [...]

  • Oscar Statue Oscars Placeholder

    Oscars 2020 Predictions: Who Will Get Nominated?

    The Oscar race is on. And it’s about to get a lot more intense when the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announces the nominations for the 92nd Oscars on Jan. 13. Golden Globes shutout “The Irishman” is favored to earn several nods, as will “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” which went home [...]

  • Golden Globes Analysis Oscar Race

    Why Golden Globes Will Likely Have Little Effect on Oscar Nominations (Column)

    With the Globes now behind us and Oscar noms rapidly approaching on Jan. 13, what should we be paying attention to in Hollywood’s biggest film awards race? Surefire bets are Globe winners Renée Zellweger (“Judy”), who already has one Oscar, and Brad Pitt, who should garner his third acting nomination for his work in Quentin [...]

  • Renee Zellweger "Judy" Pathe

    Golden Globes Predictions: Who Will Win in the Film Categories?

    With the Golden Globes just around the corner, there’s only one thing that seems inevitable: Renée Zellweger will win for best actress in the drama category when the awards are handed out on Jan. 5. Besides that, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. can go in so many different directions, as the Globes are arguably the [...]

  • Joe Talbot Jimmie Fails Last Black

    Want a Career in the Arts? Build a Community (Guest Column)

    Last November, 400,000 writers from around the world agreed to spend a month with their friends writing novels. They met in libraries and cafés, cheered on by 1,000 volunteers. One writer, a 20-year-old college student, recently signed a two-book publishing deal. Previous novelists have had their books turned into Hollywood movies. And it wasn’t just [...]

  • Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet in

    Can 'Little Women' Recover for Oscars After SAG Nominations Shutout?

    Where in the world was “Little Women”? That was the big question this morning when the 2020 SAG Award nominations were announced. Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of the classic novel was completely shut out by Wednesday’s nominations. It comes on the heels of “Little Women” snagging just two Golden Globe noms for Saoirse Ronan for lead [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content