National Geographic Channel’s four-hour Inside 9/11 documentary set network ratings records and showed a widespread viewer willingness to watch programming relating to the 2001 terrorist attacks.
With the fourth anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in the U.S. two weeks away, each episode of the two-part Nat Geo special — which looks at information leading up to the attacks through newly declassified documents and interviews — set household ratings records for the channel.
The Aug. 22 premiere of the second installment of Inside 9/11 drew a 3.6 household rating, easily besting the 2.5 household rating garnered by the show’s Aug. 21 premiere episode. That bested the previous high of a 1.65 rating for the December 2004 special Unlocking DaVinci’s Code.
Combined, the two installments drew nearly 18 million viewers.
NGC president Laureen Ong said the network was confident of the show’s informational appeal, but wasn’t unsure whether viewers were ready to watch a documentary surrounding the terrorist attacks.
“I knew if we got people to the set, they would watch for a long time,” she said. “My only question was, would people care enough about the subject matter to bring you to the set?”
NGC executive vice president of programming John Ford thought recent events, including the bombings in London’s mass-transit system, developments in Iraq and the resurgence of Al Qaeda, fueled interest in the documentary. Some recent news — including the controversy earlier this month surrounding whether the government ignored information on one of the terrorists in the World Trade Center attacks — were added to the special at the last minute. “All of the sudden we had all of this news popping which we were able to include in the special,” Ford said.
The show also benefited from generally positive newspaper reviews, as well as from a significant amount of Web traffic during the airing of both shows from various Weblogs.
“There was very high buzz going in, but the buzz generated during the show really propelled the ratings to record-breaking levels,” Ford said.
Nat Geo was expected to run the four-hour series in its entirety Aug. 26. Ford said a sequel, focused on the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, is being considered.
“We’ve seen this incredible hunger on the part of the viewer for information on not only what happened on Sept. 11 but on Al Qaeda, how it works and the whole nature of radical Islam,” he said. “People are not interested in just reliving 9/11, but there interested in where this all came from, how did it happen and what could happen next.”