Which of the TV specials are worth watching?
Television networks across the political and taste spectrum are piling on 9/11 coverage this week, from live reporting of the Ground Zero memorials to conspiracy theory retrospectives. In order to avoid the millions-of-channels-but-nothing-to-watch conundrum, we previewed some of the upcoming programs.
The cable network is going big with Inside 9/11, (Sept. 11, 5 p.m.) a series that tracks terrorist attacks against the United States, beginning with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and continuing through Sept. 11, 2001. But most compelling will likely be George W. Bush: The 9/11 Interview, (Sept. 11, 9 p.m.) billed as the most in-depth interview to date with the former president specifically about his experiences after learning that the first plane had hit the World Trade Center, including the surprising conclusion of The Pet Goat.
Perhaps the most ambitious special on the city of New York after 9/11 is Rising: Rebuilding Ground Zero, helmed by -- who else? -- director Steven Spielberg (Sept. 11, 5 p.m.). The show looks at the monumental effort that's gone into the construction of the new World Trade Center, painstakingly documenting the difficult work of building the new skyscrapers and memorial on the footprint of the Twin Towers. After years of setbacks and controversy, the documentary appears as One World Trade Center is finally beginning to show real progress. As the Guardian reports:
"This week the tower stands at 80 floors and counting. It is going up at the rate of a floor a week, the product of 24/7 activity by a team of 1,100 workers. By the time it opens, it will be 104 floors; a beacon will take it to the historically resonant height of 1,776ft (541 metres).
Up on the 55th floor of the emerging skyscraper -- once called Freedom Tower but now known by the more temperate name 1 World Trade Centre -- the stunning views are ample evidence of the building's potential."
On Saturday and Sunday, HBO will be showing Nine Innings From Ground Zero, a look at the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks through the lens of baseball and the New York Yankees' 2001 World Series run. The film, which the New York Times described as a "rah-rah documentary," combines footage of the games with interviews of athletes, coaches, and politicians to evoke the tragedy, tension, and pageantry in the weeks after the attacks. The film focuses on how the World Series helped to normalize life for skittish New Yorkers, as well as how the country -- for once -- rallied behind New York's (in)famous team. As Yankee third baseman Scott Brosius says, "For the rest of that year anyway, we weren't the hated Yankees." Ten years later, at least some things are back to normal.
Amid the constant barrage of survivor interviews, archival footage, and oral histories, the cable giant seeks to distinguish itself with themed specials leading up to Sunday's anniversary. Sanjay Gupta Reports: Terror in the Dust (Sept. 10, 9 p.m.) follows the doctor-cum-journalist as he looks at the health issues that have plagued first responders in the years since the attacks.
A recently published study in the journal Lancet shows that emergency workers who responded to the attacks on the Twin Towers continue to suffer from a variety of illnesses, from asthma to depression. According to CNN:
"The environmental hazards at the World Trade Center disaster site -- mercury from fluorescent light bulbs, dioxin and benzene emitted as the jets burned, asbestos from the building materials, and more -- have caused post-traumatic symptoms, severe respiratory ailments, immune problems and, some suspect, a greatly increased cancer risk."
CNN also weighs in on Sunday with Beyond Bravery: The Women of 9/11. CNN correspondent Soledad O'Brien looks at the experiences of female first responders through interviews and archival footage, highlighting the role that women played in the immediate response to the attacks.
Robert De Niro hosts a special broadcast updating his 2002 documentary film 9/11. The program, aptly titled 9/11: Ten Years Later, (Sept 11, 8 p.m.) includes, "the only known footage of the first plane striking the World Trade Center and the only footage from inside Ground Zero during the attacks." De Niro's update revisits the group of TriBeCa firefighters on which the original film focused, using their stories to personalize the attack and its aftermath. A native New Yorker, De Niro also launched the TriBeCa Film Festival in an effort to revitalize lower Manhattan.
The "fair and balanced" network keeps it simple with 9/11: Timeline of Terror, (Sept. 11, 10 p.m.) which reconstructs the day using "real-time" sources, including "cockpit recordings from the hijacked airliners, cell phone calls from people on the planes, FAA and Air Traffic Control recordings, emergency 911 calls, FDNY dispatches, and press updates by New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani." The special could benefit Giuliani, who has not ruled out a 2012 presidential bid, reminding viewers of his time as the respected mayor of a city under attack, rather than the former Republican presidential candidate widely remembered for a poorly run campaign and crushing electoral defeat.
For more highbrow viewers, PBS is ready with Objects and Memory, (Sept. 11, 4 p.m.) a documentary that "depicts experiences in the aftermath of 9/11 and other major historic events to reveal how, in times of stress, we join together in community and see otherwise ordinary things as symbols of identity, memory and aspiration." The film, narrated by Frank Langella and set to music by Philip Glass, may be esoteric to some, but could be a moving reflection on loss to others.
The documentary The Love You Make (Sept 10, 9 p.m.) followed Paul McCartney around New York in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. The musician's plane had been ready to depart New York City that morning, but his flight was grounded after the attacks. The charming McCartney returned to the Big Apple, talking to residents and helping to organize his much celebrated "Concert for New York City" in Oct. 2001 at Madison Square Garden.
For those looking for programming of a more questionable sensibility, HDNet Movies will be screening Loose Change (Sept. 11, 9:15 p.m.), probably the best-known film from the 9/11-was-an-inside-job oeuvre. The movie, which expounds on the theory that the attacks on the World Trade Center were perpetrated by members of the Bush administration, became an online sensation.
NBC, CBS, ESPN
Finally, in what will almost assuredly prove to be the most watched television event of this 9/11 anniversary weekend, the NFL season begins on Sunday with games in Washington, D.C. (1 p.m.), Pittsburgh (4:15 p.m.), and New York (8:20 p.m.) The locations were chosen to reflect the attacks of 9/11 (Pittsburgh being relatively close to the Pennsylvania field where United Airlines Flight 93 went down). The games will be accompanied by special reports on various networks, including a CBS interview with New England Patriots lineman Joe Andruzzi and two of his brothers, firemen who responded to the attacks in New York. NBC is planning pregame and half-time shows to commemorate the anniversary. New York Jets coach Rex Ryan told NBC Sports, "The significance of it, I think it's stronger than any game I've ever felt. I feel more pressure on this game for whatever reason than any game I've ever coached, it seems like."
Marketwatch reports that the NFL began planning for the anniversary a year ago. Robert De Niro -- who seems to be appearing in every 9/11 tribute airing on television this weekend -- will narrate a video during the half-time of the Jets game, and Colin Powell will serve as the Redskins' "honorary captain" in D.C.
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