As the anniversary of Sept. 11 quickly nears, the cable industry is still trying to nail down a plan to commemorate the terrorist attacks by looking to simulcast a tribute across many networks.
The National Cable & Telecommunications Association has created a task force to iron out details and recommend a final strategy for the so-called "Moment of Tribute."
There is a "general consensus … an informal consensus" among cable programmers "to focus on a moment of remembrance" this Sept. 11, said NCTA senior vice president of communications and public affairs Rob Stoddard. But if the tribute is to go forward with the support of the industry, the plans for its execution must be hashed out soon.
The trade association is gathering intelligence on the subject, Stoddard said.
"We've assembled a small task force of some network representatives to help guide us. We want what would be most palatable to networks and would get the most buy-in from them."
The NCTA proposal has been in the works for months, and now the first anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon is just over a month away.
"As an industry, we have to move swiftly," Stoddard said. "Time is of the essence at this point."
The NCTA has proposed creating a 60-second public service announcement, a "visually compelling 'Moment of Tribute,' " which cable networks would simulcast this coming Sept. 11.
The plan is for the PSA, funded by the NCTA, to depict still and video images of the Sept. 11 heroes, and to show the aftermath of the attacks in terms of how America has survived.
After the first simulcast of the PSA, networks were to be encouraged to repeat it throughout the day Sept. 11, and even after that. Cable systems would have access to the PSA via a satellite feed on the day of the simulcast.
This "roadblock" idea had its genesis back in May, when the NCTA's Satellite Network Committee expressed a desire for cable networks to concurrently air a moment of silence to commemorate the attacks.
Stoddard said the NCTA's PSA plans "are still a work in progress," and the whole effort is a complex matter, with a number of issues to be addressed. For example, Stoddard said some cable networks have indicated that they want some flexibility in terms of the memorial content, like having the option to create their own Sept. 11 PSA to run for the roadblock.
"You can make a strong argument that the content for kids [networks] should look different than that for networks for older viewers," Stoddard said.
While the initial NCTA plan called for the PSA to possibly run at the time the first plane hit the Twin Towers — 8:43 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time — the question arises whether the spot should air on the West Coast at 5:43 a.m. local time, or be delayed to air at 8:43 a.m. PDT.
"It's challenging when you have these kinds of sub-issues," Stoddard said. "There are vexing questions in terms of execution."
One source maintained that the task force is just advising on the message and production of the PSA.
At this point, some cable-network executives expressed confusion about what the NCTA's plan entails, with officials wondering if it will come down to just the roadblock, or if it will merely involve the airing of the PSA tribute throughout the day Sept. 11.
They said they can't commit until they hear the final game plan.
A number of cable networks have unveiled their own plans to commemorate Sept. 11. Just last week, Discovery Networks U.S. said it will present 14 hours of special programming, under the banner "Faces of 9/11," from Aug. 29 to Sept. 11 on five of its networks: Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel, Travel Channel, Discovery Health Channel and Discovery Civilization Channel.
The eight days of specials will culminate with encore performances of all the programs on Discovery Civilization on Sept. 11, from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Discovery's plans have been in the works for a year, according to Billy Campbell, president of Discovery Networks U.S.
Because the Big Four broadcast networks are essentially planning around-the-clock Sept. 11 coverage, Campbell said it "made sense for Discovery to get ahead of that" by kicking off its programming Aug. 29.
"We didn't want to get caught up in any clutter," he said.
Last week MTV: Music Television announced the lineup for its 2002 MTV Video Music Awards. The show will have a Sept. 11 tribute, according to MTV president Van Toffler.
Bruce Springsteen, whose new album has songs referencing the attacks, will perform at the awards show, too. The MTV show is usually held the first week of September, but was pushed forward to Aug. 29 so as not to bump up against the Sept. 11 anniversary.
As for Springsteen's planned appearance, Toffler said: "He made a phenomenal record, and he is a spokesperson for the country at large. It feels like his record in particular speaks to the events that happened in the past year. We feel we can create an uplifting moment with Bruce."
MTV is also contemplating some kind of tribute — not "somber" — that would commemorate Sept. 11 by celebrating New York City and how it has repaired itself, Toffler said.
Another Viacom Inc. network, Noggin, has set a week-long slate of Sept. 11 tribute programming to air on its tween "The N" block. From Sept. 9 to Sept. 15, Noggin will air episodes of its series A Walk In Your Shoes, as well as special interstitials.
In one of the programs, a 15-year-old Protestant girl spends two days with a 13-year-old Muslim-American teen.
"The lesson learned from Sept. 11 is without tolerance for each other, we all fall apart as a society and a world," Noggin general manager Tom Ascheim said.
He is interested in the NCTA's Sept. 11 plan, but questioned whether the PSA "will be kid-appropriate."
A Cable News Network spokeswoman said the all-news network is still planning its Sept. 11 coverage. It will conduct live coverage of all the events in New York and Washington, with Aaron Brown and Paula Zahn anchoring that day from the roof of the network's New York bureau — the same spot where they reported the news on the day of the terrorist attacks.
CNN is also recruiting at least two and as many as four special sponsors for its Sept. 11 anniversary coverage, said executive vice president of sales and marketing Greg D'Alba. Many of these companies, particularly New York-based financial firms, seem to view such ads as contributions to the healing process following the attacks, according to D'Alba.
"We're seeing a pretty overwhelming response," he said. "Our coverage is going to be sensitive, involving and at times, could be very emotional."
Fox News Channel's Sept. 11 coverage will kick off 5 a.m. and last until 11 p.m., according to FNC executive producer Marty Ryan. The network's challenge is to find "unique, smaller stories" relating to the attacks, he said.
FNC is also producing a two-hour special, 9/11 — The Day America Changed,
which the Fox broadcast network will air in primetime on Sept. 11.
ABC Family is creating 30 to 40 interstitials, under the banner "9/11: Portraits in Hope," that it plans to air from Sept. 1 to Sept. 11, a network spokeswoman said. The 30-second spots will focus on people whose lives have been changed forever by the attacks.
On Sept. 8, ABC Family will run a special produced by ABC News, 9/11 Primetime Babies,
which will focus on five women who were pregnant at that time, lost their husbands in the attacks and now have infants.
Oxygen debated whether to air special Sept. 11 programming on the exact day of the anniversary, because of the clutter of such shows that day, and decided to go ahead anyway. So on Sept. 11, the women's network will run the 30-minute short film The Women of Rockaway Beach
which is about the community that was home to nearly one-third of the firefighters killed during the Twin Towers attack.
That documentary will be paired with interview footage of writer Jimmy Breslin, tied to his Sept. 11-related column A Smile Gone, but Where?
At the Rainbow Media Holdings Inc. stable, Bravo on Sept. 11 will run the one-hour special 3 Weeks After Paradise,
a film by playwright Israel Horovitz, commercial-free. It's his personal account of the month after the Trade Center attack.
Metro TV, Rainbow's New York regional service, on Sept. 11 will air 24 hours of commercial-free programming relating to the attacks and also meant to celebrate the city. It will include the documentary, Twin Towers: A History,
as well as shows done in partnership with WNET-TV, the local PBS station, according to Patrice Andrews, Metro TV's senior vice president of programming and production.
Among Turner Broadcasting System Inc.'s entertainment networks, Turner Classic Movies will air a 12-movie tribute to New York on Sept. 11, kicking off at 6 a.m. with The Crowd
and ending with the airing of New York, New York.
Home Box Office plans to rerun its documentary
In Memoriam: New York City, 9/11/01
at 8 p.m. on Sept. 11, while its sister service Cinemax will run Visions from Ground Zero,
a series of short independent documentaries on the events and aftermath of the terrorist attacks.