9/11 commemorative TV shows? I think I’ll pass

BEFORE: In this light-hearted postcard from before 9/11/2001, the World Trade Center was just another landmark on the New York City skyline. (Source: Author’s collection of World Trade Center postcards.)


NEW YORK, Sept. 7, 2011 — You can’t escape 9/11 on TV this week, though it would be nice if you could.

Turn on the tube and there it is, all served up on multiple channels so you can have the opportunity to relive the horror of that day:  The visual — as impossible to believe then as it is now 10 years later — of airliners flying directly into each of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, the resultant smoke pouring out of the gaping holes after the great buildings seemed to swallow the big jets, the poor souls who chose to jump a hundred stories to their deaths rather than be burned alive, the eventual collapse of each tower and the debris clouds that overwhelmed lower Manhattan and billowed out over the Hudson River.

Want to wallow in the memory of it all?  Go right ahead, but I think I’ll pass.  I have no need to relive that day and the days that followed, though judging from all the special retrospective material now airing in advance of this Sunday’s 10th anniversary, plenty of people seem to have a need to relive it, and also to talk about it, to tell the rest of us where they were when it happened, what they felt then and how they feel about it now, how the terrorist sneak attacks changed “us,” and on and on.

I guess I’m not much of a wallower.  I was at home when the attacks occurred, two miles up Greenwich Street from the Twin Towers.  And that’s all you’re going to learn about what I experienced that day.  If offered a microphone by a roving reporter from a local radio or TV station to relate my experiences for broadcast, I would politely decline.  But plenty of people around here are saying yes to such invitations.  If you live in New York, you’re seeing and hearing their testimony all over the place these days in commemorative segments on all the news shows and cable channel specials.

Local newscasts this week can’t go to a commercial break without a 9/11 interlude — some somber music and the words “Remembering 9/11” on the screen, and a brief interview with some passerby who tells us how he or she was on his or her way to work downtown that day and saw the planes hit or, less dramatically, still soaking in a tub somewhere else, perhaps not anywhere near any of the 9/11 attack sites at all, hearing the shocking bulletins on the radio or TV.

These people seem to find the opportunity to tell their stories impossible to resist — a way of thinking in line with social trends.  Everyone wants to tell his or her own story these days, right?  So they take to Facebook and Twitter and tell everyone they know what they’re eating right now.

Not me, though.  My 9/11 memories are private.  My feelings about that day are too.  Sorry, but it’s just nobody’s business.   I’ll admit this: I’m not big on anniversaries as a basis for TV commemorations.  Maybe it’s because I once had an editor, when I was at a formative age, who prohibited anniversary stories.  It wasn’t real news, he’d say, whenever a reporter came to him with a pitch from a TV network publicist ballyhooing some milestone reached by a TV show — a fifth season, or a 100th episode, or the 20th consecutive week as TV’s top comedy or drama.

As news “hooks,” such milestones were contrivances unworthy of our stations as journalists.  I got his point, and I agreed with it too.  However, you’d be correct to point out that this 9/11 anniversary is more notable than some TV show’s fifth week as the top-rated comedy on Thursday nights.

Judging by all the hours of TV programming that have been produced for the occasion, the people running the nation’s TV stations, broadcast networks and cable channels must believe the public is eager to share in a kind of telethon of national remembrance.  But you also can’t help wondering at times such as this if all the programming produced for the occasion begets all the interest, instead of the other way around.

Or, to put it another way, if TV didn’t pull out all the stops to present you with constant reminders of 9/11 this week, would you miss it?

AFTER: World Trade Center postcard from after 9/11/2001 — the late great Twin Towers draped in elongated American flags. (Author’s collection)

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com


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