September 11: Overload of Retrospective Shows Can Take a Heavy Toll

Annual cycle of anniversary shows cheapen the milestones that they aim to celebrate

9-11 12th Anniversary

The 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks is coming up — which is a good enough reason to do a lot of TV specials commemorating those events.

Not to be confused, although it’s understandable why someone might, with an onslaught of programming related to the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the upcoming semi-centennial remembrances of John F. Kennedy tied to his assassination, or the 40th anniversary of the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision.

Given how much time TV spends gazing ahead, or inward and at its symbolic navel, one hesitates to criticize networks for daring to look back to a time to which their coveted younger demos might not relate.

Yet the sheer tonnage of TV related to such yearly stories can’t help but risk trivializing them, reducing historic milestones to the status of very-special Valentine’s Day or Halloween episodes. Although there are new viewers to acquaint with these histories, the simultaneous arrival of multiple projects tends to be more numbing than illuminating.

Nor is the practice limited to major remembrances in multiples of five or 10. While there was a crushing glut of Sept. 11 specials two years ago, that hasn’t dissuaded networks from revisiting those events again from various angles, including projects devoted to a flag at the site (CNN), local news coverage that day (Smithsonian Channel), the Sept. 11 tower (PBS’ “Nova”) and first responders (Discovery Channel).

Of course, not everyone on TV is particularly nostalgic. As has been his habit, David Letterman allowed his 20-year anniversary as host of CBS’ “Late Show” to pass last week with only modest on-air recognition. In this context, the whole tortured genius persona can be a true breath of fresh air.

Still, for those who see TV as their principal conduit to information, there is perhaps something reassuring about being able to mark a date on one’s calendar. Besides, if you happen to miss something about a topic of particular interest, you only have to wait till next year.

The Way-Back Machine

TV is doing its share of looking back this year. The 12-year mark for the Sept. 11 attacks has spurred a slew of programs, including:

Sept. 4:

“The Flag” CNN

Sept. 8:

“Tapes” (Smithsonian Channel)

“Zero Hour: The Final Minutes of Flight 11” (Military Channel)

Sept. 10:

“9/11 State of Emergency” (H2)

“Grounded on 9/11” (H2)

Sept. 11

“9/11 Firehouse” (Discovery)

Ground Zero: Supertower” (PBS)

“The Man Who Predicted 9/11” (History)

“102 Minutes That Changed America” (History)

“The Miracle of Stairway B” (History)