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TV's slew of 9/11 20th-anniversary programming has been overwhelming

  • "The rush to produce as much September 11 #content as possible this year has an almost frantic undercurrent to it," says Caroline Framke. "For anyone old enough to remember it, the insistence that we Never Forget has haunted us ever since. Now there are countless 9/11 remembrances, tributes, news specials and retrospectives wanting to remind us of the devastation in granular detail, and as someone with a vivid memory of that day, I can’t imagine anything less appealing than spending its 20th anniversary watching a single one. There are docuseries about what happened on the ground (National Geographic’s 9/11: One Day in America) and the infrastructure of the towers themselves (History Channel’s Rise and Fall: The World Trade Center). There are interviews with children of the deceased (PBS’ Generation 9/11), the stunned Bush administration (Apple TV Plus’ 9/11: Inside the President’s War Room), and the former CIA and Afghan officials who became embroiled in the war that continues to this day (Netflix’s Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror). There are even retrospectives on responses from stand-up comedy (Vice TV’s Too Soon: Comedy After 9/11), Broadway (Apple TV Plus’ filmed version of Come From Away), and even college football (ESPN’s Comeback Season — Sports After 9/11). On Sept. 11 proper, more channels than I can name will broadcast coverage for hours on end, just in case anyone might do the unforgivable and overlook which day it is for even a single second." Framke adds: "If recollecting Sept. 11 brings you clarity, knowledge, or even some kind of peace, I wouldn’t dare begrudge you that — even as I question who, exactly, all these specials are even for. When faced with this wall of reflective programming across all networks and platforms, I feel nothing but a bone deep, existential exhaustion that certainly won’t be helped by immersing myself in latent trauma. For me and so many others, there’s just not much to gain from reliving 9/11 through TV beyond déjà vu of the stupefied ache we never want to remember, but can never truly forget."


    • 9/11 changed the way we watch TV news via the addition of a news ticker at the bottom of the screen: "After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the three major broadcast networks stayed on the air with round-the-clock coverage for five straight days," says the Los Angeles Times' Stephen Battaglio. "At the time, the network news divisions were still defined by their star anchors — Dan Rather on CBS, Tom Brokaw on NBC and Peter Jennings on ABC — all of whom had become familiar faces through years of delivering information into viewers’ living rooms each night. Their relationship with the audience was established by looking straight into the camera during times of crisis. The anchors were considered heroes over that week, instilling calm in a shaken nation. But the tragedy was also a defining moment for cable news channels, which were still considered disruptors in the TV business, when they introduced a simple innovation — headlines scrolling at the bottom of the screen — that helped change the way people watched news." Fox News was the first on 9/11 to put a ticker at the bottom of the screen. “It was the most overwhelming story we had seen, and there was such a flood of information and a need to disseminate it. Everyone needed to know more,” says Fox News' Jonathan Glenn, now vice president of news writing and style for the cable news network, who was then a news writer. “We just wanted to get as much out there as possible. So we started putting headlines at the bottom of the screen. It was a way to provide more information to viewers, to give them as much as we could possibly confirm at that time.” Within hours, CNN and MSNBC were both running their own versions at the bottoms of their screens as well. 
    • CNN alum Carol Lin reflects on being the first national anchor to report on the 9/11 attacks: “That is the World Trade Center, and we have unconfirmed reports this morning that a plane has crashed into one of the towers,” the Atlanta-based Lin said on CNN at 8:49 a.m. ET, three minutes after the first plane hit the World Trade Center's North Tower. Lin, who left CNN in 2006, was among a team of anchors and reporters who mobilized for a round-the-clock schedule that day, as coverage shifted to Leon Harris and Daryn Kagan and later to Aaron Brown and Judy Woodruff. "CNN was experimenting with a new morning show format, and interestingly enough, CNN was interested in developing more in-depth news as well as feature segments, and I was preparing to do an interview with author Amy Tan about a new cartoon series that she was launching on PBS," Lin tells Deadline. "So we were in the midst of a commercial break and the interview would be up next, when all of a sudden there were people running through the CNN newsroom past me, to the control room. And for anyone who’s worked in the CNN newsroom, people don’t run. Breaking news, big news, is the life’s bloodstream of CNN, and that is what the network knows and is, in so many ways, what it does best. So when I turned around, an executive producer ran by me and I said, ‘What’s going on?’ And she said, ‘There are reports of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center.’ And so my first reaction was, ‘I wonder if it’s a small plane.’ So, as soon as I was processing this, and again we were in commercial break, my executive producer got in my earpiece and said, ‘Get to the main set,’ because I was anchoring in different locations in the CNN newsroom. She said: ‘Get to the main anchor set. We’re going into live breaking news rolling coverage.’ When I got to my chair. I made sure the computer was on, and I was logged in, and I looked at what’s called the preview monitor, which is the next shot, if you will, that the network is going to put on the air, that would be the next visual that the audience would see. When I sat down, that was my first look at the North Tower, which had a big, gaping, smoking hole in it and a fire burning. And that’s all we could see, that’s all we knew at the moment. And so then the next thing was my executive producer said: ‘Get ready. We’re breaking out of commercial. We’re going into breaking news coverage.’ And the image comes up, and that is the first that I’m aware of that America, and to a large degree the world, was seeing the beginning of what would be the worst terror strike on U.S. soil."
    • Budweiser had to tread carefully in creating a 9/11 20th-anniversary commercial that premieres Saturday: The "Respect" commercial is an updated version of an ad that first ran during the 2002 Super Bowl, five months after the attacks. The new ad will appear during the CBS broadcast of the college football matchup between the Air Force Falcons and the Navy Midshipmen and once more in the evening, on Fox, during the baseball game between the New York Yankees and the New York Mets. “By releasing the film sparingly, we preserve the significance of the day and really pay the respect that those that were lost deserve,” said Daniel Blake, a vice president of marketing at Budweiser’s parent company, Anheuser-Busch InBev. He added: "We wanted to do it obviously in a very subtle way, but it’s important to make sure that people know where the spot is coming from and who’s creating the film itself."
    • Marc Maron recalls the post-9/11 period when his comedian friends began choosing sides: "What I remember is the way (the Comedy Cellar) felt," he tells Vulture. "Nobody was secure in their sense of reality, and people were clearly freaked the f*ck out. It was like shock. The laughter was quick and weird. Clearly what we were doing wasn’t really a comfortable or effective show. It was just doing something, because at that point, Lower Manhattan was closed. It was constant police activity and excavation activity. People were sleepwalking in a state of profound shock, so that was your audience. And if you’re like me — who’s not going to be immediately jingoistic or patriotic in the classic sense, and is going to sort of explore things as a reactive liberal person — it was dicey."
    • Watch a behind the scenes video of CNN Center in Atlanta on 9/11: The footage shows Ted Turner having a discussion on CNN's standards, which at the time included not covering hijackings.
    • Watch CNN and Fox News pundit Barbara Olson on C-SPAN two days before her death on 9/11: Olson died on American Airlines Flight 77 -- the plane that was crashed into the Pentagon -- traveling to Los Angeles to tape Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect.
    • Frontline's America after 9/11 is a must-watch deconstruction of the War on Terror explained in clear and illuminating terms 
    • Nat Geo's 9/11: One Day in America was made in collaboration with the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York
    • How Mister Rogers helped a devastated nation grieve after 9/11: Fred Rogers ended up recording four videos, including one aimed at parents

    TOPICS: 9/11, CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, 9/11: One Day in America , Frontline, Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror, Barbara Olson, Carol Lin, Fred Rogers, Jonathan Glenn, Marc Maron, Ted Turner, Advertising, Budweiser, Cable News, Documentaries