The anniversaries of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and of Hurricane Katrina will receive major coverage from entertainment-based cable networks over the next couple of months, through a series of documentaries and specials.
The History Channel, Black Entertainment Television, Home Box Office, National Geographic Channel, Court TV, Scripps Networks and Discovery Networks U.S. are among the programmers that will focus on the fifth anniversary of terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., as well as the upcoming Aug. 29 anniversary of the destruction Hurricane Katrina reigned on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast last year.
The latest slate of cable documentaries examining 9/11 follows last year’s entries from National Geographic Channel and A&E Network, which generated record viewership performances. Nat Geo’s two-part Inside 9/11 garnered a network-best 18 million viewers for its premieres last August, while A&E’s Jan. 30 movie Flight 93, which recreated the events leading up to the United Airlines flight that crashed in rural Pennsylvania, produced a network record 4.7 household rating, yielding 5.9 million viewers.
Nevertheless, network executives like The History Channel director of programming Marc Etkind said there are still many stories to be told regarding the worst terrorist attack on American soil.
“The History Channel has been airing programs about 9/11 since the moment it happened, realizing what an important historical event it has been,” said Etkind. “I think this is just a continuation.”
The lynchpin to History’s Aug. 13 to Aug. 20 week of 9/11 programming is a pair of original documentaries: The Miracle of Stairway B, which tells the story of 14 survivors of the attacks on the World Trade Center, and Countdown to Ground Zero, which follows the events leading up to the attacks.
History isn’t the only network to schedule a block: Nat Geo will offer three nights, beginning Aug. 27. Along with an encore of the Inside 9/11 documentary — with new and updated information — the network will air two specials that deal with 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden.
Triple Cross: Bin Laden’s Spy In America follows the exploits of a former FBI informant who doubled as Bin Laden’s chief mole in the U.S.; and The Final Report: Osama’s Escape chronicles the al Qaeda leader’s successful efforts to avoid capture.
Programming related to 9/11 and terrorism continues to hold strong appeal for viewers, said Nat Geo executive vice president of programming and production John Ford.
“If you look at recent events internationally and domestically, like the foiled terrorist plot in New York City, the London subway and bus attacks one year ago, the ongoing efforts to find Osama Bin Laden, and the successful find of [al Qaeda mastermind Abu Mussab al-] Zarqawi, these things continue to be in the public mind,” Ford said. “Terrorism continues to be in the news — it’s something that we feel palpably as a threat at home. Things that are related to that, we think will be interesting to viewers.”
Court TV will also take a closer look at the facts contained in the government’s 9/11 Commission Report as part of an Aug. 21 special. Network president and chief operating officer Art Bell said the special features comments and interviews from victims’ family members who recall their experiences on the actual events of that day.
KATRINA, A YEAR LATER
Disseminating new and relevant information is also the goal behind several documentaries and news specials from such networks as HBO and BET in recognizing the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast.
On Aug. 21 and 22, the premium service will debut When The Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, a four-hour documentary directed by filmmaker Spike Lee that looks at the Crescent City and its residents in the aftermath of the storm.
Lee said the documentary, which will be shown free of charge at the New Orleans Arena on Aug. 16, will take viewers beyond the headlines and the news reports to focus on the individuals who remained in ’Nawlins as they attempt to rebuild their lives.
Elsewhere, BET’s game plan calls for daily, 60-second news vignettes, dubbed Saving Ourselves: One Year Later, from Aug. 7 through Sept. 1. The shorts will assess the state of the Gulf Coast region since Katrina through news updates, as well as testimony from residents of the area and celebrities such as Holly Robinson Peete, who have aided in the relief efforts.
“We wanted to take a look at where we are now — what’s the state of things after this horror story of last year — and also look at what needs to be done going forward,” said BET executive vice president for news and public affairs Nina Henderson-Moore.
Networks owned by Discovery and Scripps will also air several specials relating to Katrina. Discovery Health Channel on Aug. 24 will premiere Hurricane Katrina Babies, a one-hour special that follows the stories of infants born during the storm. Three days later, Discovery Channel will air Surviving Katrina, a two-hour special which, through emergency phone calls and never-before-seen home video from New Orleans, will shed new light on what happened in the days and weeks after the hurricane hit.
On Aug. 29, Discovery Times Channel will debut documentaries, After Katrina — focusing on the aftermath of the storm — as well as Rebuilding New Orleans.
As for Scripps, Food Network will premiere Aug. 20 Emeril Live: Rebuilding New Orleans One Meal at a Time, which chronicles the recovery efforts of food establishments within New Orleans, while DIY will debut two specials surrounding the rebuilding — Assembly Required: Operation Home Delivery (Aug. 29) and Habitat Homes: Building for the Future (Sept. 24).
Sundance Channel on Aug. 29 will premiere two music-based documentaries, Saving Jazz and In The Sun: Michael Stipe and Friends.