Few networks have dared to develop programming depicting the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but National Geographic Channel and Discovery Channel will both offer documentaries that look at the actions of that fateful day and the events that led up to the tragedy.
Executives from both networks believe that viewers are emotionally ready to watch content evoking that day, particularly in light of recent global terrorist activity and this nation's increased security measures to thwart future attacks here.
Discovery's The Flight That Fought Back, premiering Sept. 11, will look at the courageous passengers of Flight 93. That United Airlines flight was hijacked and redirected toward Washington, D.C., when several passengers stormed the cockpit and forced the place to crash in Pennsylvania.
The four-part Nat Geo special Inside 9/11, bowing Aug. 21, looks at information leading up to the attacks through newly declassified documents from the 9/11 Commission investigation, as well as interviews with experts, whistleblowers, investigators and survivors.
“We wanted to put this moment in history in a clearer light for everyone, not just for those who lived through the day and those who have heard bits and pieces of what happened, but also those who have since come of age and wonder what happened and how we got there,” said Nat Geo executive vice president of programming John Ford. Given the horrific nature, very few networks have broached the subject. Some fear that the country is still not ready to relive the day, while others didn't want to be perceived as sensationalizing or trivializing the tragedy.
But Discovery Channel executive vice president and general manager Jane Root believes that enough time has elapsed for the nation to heal and to reflect on what happened. Root, who is British, said that heroism of the Flight 93 passengers should not be forgotten.
“There were moments when it first happened that people were shocked by it and nothing other than news reports felt right,” Root said. “But there is a sense now that there's an absolute need for the culture to process this and find out the information and the story.”
Still, Root would not predict how well the show will perform: “I have a feeling that people are interested, but what I don't know is if people will find it too painful.”
Likewise, Nat Geo senior vice president of production Michael Cascio senses a growing curiosity.
“People are eager to find out what really happened and how did it really come about,” he said. “Even after our miniseries, new things will come to light. People will always be curious because this was such a momentous event for us.”