Jonathan Storm: Every channel's Channel 9/11

The collapse of the north tower begins, in "102 Minutes That Changed America," a documentary using raw footage. The History Channel, Sept. 11.
The collapse of the north tower begins, in "102 Minutes That Changed America," a documentary using raw footage. The History Channel, Sept. 11. (HUBERT BOESL / dpa / Corbis)

Much of this anniversary coverage is shameful. And some is intriguing, well worth watching.

Posted: August 27, 2011

Terrorists attacked America 10 years ago, and we were all advised to go about our business and not dwell on it. Television, which loves an important anniversary, will be ignoring that advice. It has gone insane on this one.

You'd expect the news outfits to stuff the schedule with remembrances, but there are more than 40 specials on networks as disparate as Discovery and A&E.

If it weren't for football, which starts this season's NBC Sunday nights on Sept. 11, there would be very little escape that night, though much of the programming is worthwhile.

But the flood of remembrance has already started and will continue virtually every single day until the actual anniversary. Most people will agree it's way too much, but then TV has rarely met an obvious idea it did not embrace wholeheartedly.

You would not be alone if you decided that TV is cheapening the horror of 9/11 with CNBC's investigation of swindlers who took advantage of attack victims, or OWN's visits with twins who lost a sibling (Twin Towers - get it?), or Animal Planet's "special" episode of Saved about two families whose dogs brought them comfort. Bio's Beyond: Messages From 9/11, about victims communicating with their living loved ones, may be the most insulting of all.

It's impossible to give a complete critical rundown of it all, but three offerings look especially interesting, for very different reasons.

Sunday at 10 p.m., National Geographic has a fascinating hour, George W. Bush: The 9/11 Interview, in which the former president describes the whys and wherefores of his actions in the time immediately following the attack, and during the subsequent days.

Bush, who received a good deal of ridicule for his behavior, has the only voice in the film. He seems remarkably forthright, explaining his thinking and motivations. Peter Schnall, who conducted the interview, told TV critics at their annual Los Angeles meeting last month that no questions were submitted in advance, and Schnall accurately described the film:

"Whether or not you believe in his politics, whether or not you believe what he did later on was correct or incorrect, that's not necessarily what this film is about. . . . I think what was most surprising was how personal he is in this film."

Not content with that, National Geographic follows with 9/11 specials in prime time for the rest of the week, getting in, mostly, before the crowd.

Another good entry comes in an unexpected spot, Nickelodeon, the kids' network. It's a half-hour episode of Nick News With Linda Ellerbee, "What Happened? The Story of September 11, 2001," premiering Thursday at 9 p.m.

In addition to having won the Edward R. Murrow Award, three Peabody Awards, and eight Emmys, Ellerbee and her show are almost perennial nominees for the Television Critics Association's award for outstanding achievement in youth programming.

The show is one of TV's brightest spots, and this episode is especially effective. It features children talking about the events and asking questions of such experts as newsman Aaron Brown, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, Department of Homeland Security official Juliette Kayyem, and 9/11 Commission chairman Thomas Kean.

"We have discovered you can really talk to kids about anything if you handle it right and you go out and find kids who want to talk about it," Ellerbee told the critics. "Don't talk down to kids. They're not dumb. They're just younger and shorter."

Older, taller people should find a lot to like in the special as well.

Finally, on Sept. 11 itself, the show to watch, if you're not interested in music, will most likely be CBS's rebroadcast of Jules and Gedeon Naudet's 9/11. When it first aired in 2002, I called it "an emotionally searing examination of grace under pressure, miraculous physical survival amid hellish danger, and the ensuing quest for survival of the psyche."

The Naudets had already spent about six months making a film profiling a rookie firefighter when the Twin Towers attacks came. 9/11 follows firefighters the day of the attack and is an amazing chronicle of their bravery and loyalty to one another. The latest presentation, beginning at 8 p.m., will feature new interviews with many of the firefighters, and bring World Trade Center neighbor Robert De Niro back as host.

Other significant programming marking the anniversary:

Friday

Fox News Reporting: Freedom Rising With Shepard Smith. Tracks the building of the new World Trade Center and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, with stories told by workers. 9 p.m. Fox News Channel

Sept. 5

9/11: Day That Changed the World. Features interviews with the New York City police and fire chiefs, Rudolph Giuliani, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Laura Bush, and others. 8 p.m., Smithsonian Channel

Sept. 6

Frontline: "Top Secret America." Examines the dark side of America's war on terrorism. 9 p.m., PBS

Sept. 9

Beyond 9/11: Portraits of Resilience. Documentary based on a Time magazine project about "40 women and men who led America, moved the nation, and sacrificed for it" after the attack. 11 p.m., CNN (HBO also will televise the show Sept. 11 beginning at 8:46 a.m., the moment of the first air strike at the Twin Towers.)

Sept. 10

The Love We Make. Albert Maysles' documentary follows Paul McCartney, who was in New York on 9/11, after the attack. 9 p.m. Showtime

Sept. 11

102 Minutes That Changed America. A real-time documentary using raw footage taken by New Yorkers as the attacks unfolded. 8:46 a.m., History Channel (and all A&E networks)

Replay of the "Today" show from Sept. 11, 2001. 9 a.m., MSNBC

The Concert for New York City: Ten Years Later. The first encore telecast of a six-hour benefit concert that was staged six weeks after the attacks, featuring McCartney, Elton John, Jay-Z, and scads of stars. 4 p.m. VH1

The Space Between. Melissa Leo plays a grounded flight attendant on 9/11 who drives a Pakistani American cross-country after she learns that his father works at the World Trade Center. 9 p.m. USA

Great Performances: "The New York Philharmonic 10th Anniversary Concert for 9/11." Featuring Mahler's Symphony No. 2, "Resurrection." 9 p.m. PBS.


Contact television critic Jonathan Storm at 215-854-5618 or jstorm@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http:// go.philly.com/jonathanstorm.

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