The cable industry will air more than 30 specials documenting the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks over the next two weeks, but only Nickelodeon will present one targeted to children. Nickelodeon’s Nick News: What Happened? The Story of September 11, 2001 will talk to kids “in simple, clear terms [about] just what happened on that day, what happened next, and how people felt about what happened,” according to news reporter Linda Ellerbee, who will host the special.
I recently spoke to Nickelodeon president of original programming Marjorie Cohn about what the kids-targeted network hopes to accomplish with the special, which premieres Sept. 1. Cohn also talked about the 20th anniversary of Nick News and the future of the franchise. An edited version of our discussion appears below.
Tom Umstead: Why did you feel it was important for Nickelodeon to address the 10th anniversary of 9/11?
Marjorie Cohn: We have the only news program for kids and we feel like there’s going to be a lot of noise out there surrounding the anniversary. Linda was there to explain what happened on that day which I think many of our viewers were too young to remember. As a part of our history this coverage will be pervasive – [Ellerbee] once again will put it in perspective and explain to kids exactly what happened in terms that they can understand. Those towers falling were repeated over and over again and it seemed like it happened a million times and it’s good for kids to tune in and see what actually happened and kind of demystify the tragedy.
TU: Do you think that given all of the noise that will be out there with regards to 9/11 programming that kids could get overwhelmed with images and information from that tragic day?
MC: We suggest before our special that they sit down with a parent and discuss it afterward, but we feel like our special will give the facts. As always, we talk about good people trying to make things better. Our audience is kids and they know that our show is there for them. That’s not to say they may not watch other shows but we like to think they’ll be watching Nick News because we’re been a trusted source.
TU: How would you define whether the special ultimately ends up as a success for Nickelodeon?
MC: We are interested in ratings but not particularly for this show, which is really a service. What we’re really trying to do here is get the information out there that’s digestible for kids and we hope as many of them who want to know more about the subject are motivated to tune in.
TU: Nick News With Linda Ellerbee is also celebrating its 20th anniversary with this special. Is there anything you want to add about the Nick News franchise?
MC: We’ve signed up Linda for three more years and we’re committed. In some way the 20th anniversary of the show and the 10th anniversary of 9/11 kind of encapsulate what’s best about the show. Linda has been a trusted source for 20 years – when noise gets too big and at times gets sad and overwhelming, she will explain it and end a show with a ray of hope and with a belief that kids can really change the world and that knowledge is power. Those are all things that we think empower kids and help them understand and navigate their world more successfully.