The 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is an occasion being marked in a wide variety of ways by the TV industry. Between now and the 11th, the three major broadcast networks will devote hours of memorial coverage featuring their morning- and evening-news anchors. There’s a fictional drama starring Melissa Leo, The Space Between, about a young boy (Anthony Keyvan) whose father worked in the World Trade Center, that the USA network will air. And there are literally more than a score of documentaries that will be shown on channels ranging from Fox News and MSNBC to Nickelodeon and the Smithsonian Channel.
The scheduling of these shows and many others have already given rise to a backlash: It’s too much, some say. It trivializes the horrific event. It’s cynical business.
The argument against the volume of 9/11 programming, which has cropped up on various blogs and in newspapers such as The New York Post, has been articulated most reasonably by Brian Lowry in Variety. In a piece titled “Cacophony of voices dull anniversary,” Lowry writes, “So many networks have scheduled specials, movies, even entire themed weeks centered on Sept. 11 that they risk trivializing the event, making it equivalent to [...] Halloween or Christmas episodes… networks with no logical connection to the story have piled on, defensively or opportunistically. Either way, it’s unnecessary.” Lowry concludes: “TV’s immersive approach to marking the anniversary unwittingly seems more reminiscent of another tower — the biblical one in Babel.”
I get Lowry’s point. The quantity might seem intimidating and the quality of this programming, like everything else on TV, is going to vary. But here’s what I say:
Too much? You mean, as opposed to airing Big Brother three times a week? Or the hours and hours of Bravo’s various Real Housewives franchises also coming this same week? It’s “too much,” too numbing, to replay footage of the planes going into the World Trade Center towers, but it’s not too much to air two hours of Bachelor Pad and two hours of America’s Got Talent, which combine to form four hours of entertainment that are numbing in a different way, not emotionally but intellectually numbing?
It’s not as though every citizen is going to sit and watch every one of these 9/11-themed shows for hours on end (though some may). People will do what they always do: Pick and choose among the offerings and watch shows that seem interesting, enlightening, and moving. They will avoid others that might upset them.
What the hell is wrong with devoting a lot of TV time to remember what remains one of the worst and, in its aftermath, one of the noblest, most vexed, complex, and influential moments in American history? Tell me.