Veterans Day and Sept. 11 have more than just a number in common. That’s because both have been transformed into TV anniversaries that trigger an outpouring of tie-in specials, to the point where what should be solemn remembrances begin to risk diminishing the occasion.
Presented in a vacuum, the various programs commemorating these dates would be worthy of note. But the sheer weight of them – airing on HBO (whose “The Concert For Valor” is the splashiest of the bunch), MTV, PBS, Food Network, INSP, the rebranded American Heroes Channel, the cable networks of course, plus the A&E series “Dogs of War” (pictured), about shelter dogs paired with struggling veterans – creates a kind of white noise.
The net effect threatens to turn serious affairs into the TV equivalent of the themed episodes networks tend to trot out in regard to cheerier holidays, like Valentine’s Day or Thanksgiving.
It is also, frankly, the kind of fare that’s so well intentioned as to inoculate it against criticism. There is, after all, no serious constituency in favor of ignoring the service of veterans (or the losses experienced on Sept. 11), so the message – arriving as it does simultaneously, once a year – has a slightly tinny ring to it.
The problem this raises from a critical perspective is that other than noting their existence, there’s almost nothing worth saying about the shows individually. And having watched something like “Dogs of War,” there’s no pleasure in observing that the premiere feels manipulative and, in the tidy way episodes are constructed, like a rather facile exploration of the serious and complicated issues of integrating back into civilian life that veterans face.
These specials might be a lot of things, in other words, but from a journalistic perspective, they’re the opposite of newsworthy.
Barring industry-wide collusion, there’s no real solution to this, any more than there is to the now-annual wave of specials related to other historical milestones. Events like the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination last year or a decade since the Sept. 11 attacks would be prime examples.
But it’s noteworthy that this week’s onslaught of Veteran’s Day programming happens to precede by only a few days Hallmark Channel’s first Christmas movie of the season, “Northpole,” which – much like those radio stations that go all-Christmas-music in November – will air nearly two weeks before Thanksgiving, inaugurating its “Countdown to Christmas.”
Veterans deserve to be honored and celebrated for their service. The question is how well TV really serves them by collectively treating the day chosen to recognize their sacrifices like another Hallmark holiday.