Troubles With TV's 9/11 content

In boxing terms, ABC's "The Path to 9/11" and CBS' "9/11" have been hit with a nice series of financially depressing combination punches.

First, ABC: The network realized few advertisers were going to buy its controversial miniseries--possibly after attempting to get a solo sponsor for the event. So it decided to go commercial-free and foot the entire $30 million bill itself, all in the good name of public service.

But that wasn't the only kick in the stomach: Now Democrat politicos are saying the show is riddled with major inaccuracies, especially in its portrayal of the Clinton Administration. Changes should be made or ABC should pull the show, they demand.

Now, CBS:  It also attempted to sell advertising for its gritty documentary "9/11"--perhaps with limited commercial interruptions or, as the show has run in the past, with a major single sponsor such as Nextel footing the bill. But this time around CBS, like ABC, found few takers. It will now run "9/11" free of advertising. Commerce will not interrupt a seriously defining event of the world.



But that wasn't enough. Now some CBS affiliates refuse to air "9/11"; others just want to delay it till later evening hours. Rough language is the reason. With new FCC penalties, stations are scared they will get hefty fines.

Where's the upside? The downside? Any side? ABC and CBS and other networks are doing their best to honor the attacks around 9/11 with news/programming efforts which are, no doubt, a big part of the broadcast networks' public obligation of the airwaves. Certainly, all these shows have little to do with the immediate lining of their pockets.

Forget what people are telling you. These shows are not like CBS' troubles with  "The Reagans" of a few years ago--another journalistically troubled TV movie, one that forced CBS to take it off the schedule because of Republican partisans' pressure. (It ended up airing on Showtime.) Programs around the 9/11 terrorist attacks are too sensitive, too graphic, too close to home--too real for some viewers and participants.

You want to honor those victims? Program "Seinfeld" reruns. That's right: give us some laughter. Don't cheapen it with any lukewarm TV 9/11 content. Special interests will only leave this tragedy without any real TV resolve. I'm not saying we should turn our backs on the events of the day--just this one day. It's too serious to mess up. Instead, people should congregate silently at Ground Zero or other public places--and perhaps look up at the sky.

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