Six Sickeningly Exploitative 9/11 Specials

Do you remember what you were doing on September 11, 2001? I was in my ninth grade American history class, probably learning about Archduke Ferdinand, because at no other time in your life do you ever learn about Archduke Ferdinand (he caused World War I!), when someone yelled from the hallway to turn the TV in our room on. And ever since that moment, nearly a decade ago, there has been an endless stream of TV shows and specials about the tragedy that happened that blue September morning. That media coverage will culminate in the coming weeks before the ten-year anniversary with more than 40 TV specials across various networks.

Many of the three-dozen-plus specials sound extremely worthwhile and well-meaning, like Linda Ellerbee’s “Nick News Report on 9/11,” aimed at kids too young to remember the events of September 11 (this Thursday at 9 p.m. on Nickelodeon). But — and this will come as a big shock, I’m sure — many networks are set to broadcast programs that do nothing but exploit the tragedy to bring in viewers. Here are six of the worst.

“When Pop Culture Saved America,” September 5, 8 p.m. (Bio Channel)

In ascending order, these are my five favorite things in life: 5) my friends and family; 4) the New York Mets; 3) my fiancée; 2) the Carolina Panthers [Editor’s note: ouch]; and 1) pop culture. I don’t know what my life would be like without “The Simpsons” or the Replacements, and in many ways, pop culture has made me the person who I am today. But at no point did Denis Leary or Regis Philbin ever save me or America in the weeks, months, years following (or before) September 11. And yet: “When Pop Culture Saved America” aims to show how the “non-news media,” including Dan Rather (isn’t he news media?), Regis, and Leary (whose “Rescue Me” finishes its seven-season run on 9/11, too), “pitched in to bring the nation together.” UGH. It’s like the back-scratching and ball-fondling of the Oscars times a million. Also: I think Adam Sandler performing as Operaman at the Concert for New York City did more harm than good.

“American Greed: 9/11 Fraud,” September 7, 9 p.m. (CNBC)

This special — which will “reveal the illegal lengths people will go to steal money following a national tragedy” — sounds interesting enough (even if the three criminals they’re profiling have already been widely covered)…but there’s no reason for it to exist. What can be learned from “American Greed”? People are awful? Knew that. People will try to make a fast buck (or 68,000)? No surprise there, either. People will take advantage of a tragedy? Knew that, too — just look at CNBC’s programming the night of September 7.

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