Like most of you, I spent the long, strange, tragic day that was September 11, 2001 glued to the TV set, rifling from channel to channel, hoping against hope that some channel, somewhere would offer a piece of good news – or even some kind of explanation for the day’s tragedies that would help make sense of all the carnage.
Instead, what I got was a kind of uniform confusion. Every talking head on every channel was having the same reactions, at roughly the same time. (If you watch one of the many YouTube montages of the second plane hitting the South Tower, the reaction time between the explosion and each anchorman declaring that we’re under attack is nearly identical from clip to clip.) And whenever emotion or the latest piece of bad news seemed to overwhelm the men and women on-screen, they turned to pop culture to help focus their thoughts, talking about how much these terrible images on our screens resembled something out of a disaster movie.
But if this was life imitating art in horrific fashion, art found ways to respond in kind. And no artistic medium was better positioned to respond to 9/11 than television, whether through news reports, fundraising specials, or even scripted dramas like “The West Wing” and “Rescue Me” and science fiction series like “Battlestar Galactica.”
Obviously, TV news was there from the start, following the story at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Shanksville, PA, then overseas to Afghanistan and elsewhere. The events of 9/11 helped usher in a more intimate form of news coverage, one where first-person reactions became not rare exceptions but an understood part of the form. After we had all been through that day together, and after the events of that day had shattered whatever kind of objective distance those anchors and reporters had from this story, it became easier to accept them becoming parts of other stories. (See all the embedded journalists during the invasion of Iraq, for instance, or the reactions to the flooding of New Orleans after Katrina.)
But that day’s impact on TV entertainment went just as deep, helped by a few quirks in scheduling and also the ways that TV is different from the movies.
Continue reading Ken Tucker’s column here.