9/11 specials, new and old, fill the TV week

For the next week, our TV sets will become history machines.
Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, with ceremonies at the 9/11 memorial (shown here) and beyond. Much of the coverage will be packed into Friday and Saturday, but there will also be a couple earlier reports.
Here are some of the highlights. Afterward, I’ve included three separate stories that I posted last week: Read more…

For the next week, our TV sets will become history machines.

Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, with ceremonies at the 9/11 memorial (shown here) and beyond. Much of the coverage will be packed into Friday and Saturday, but there will also be a couple earlier reports.

Here are some of the highlights. Afterward, I’ve included three separate stories that I posted last week:

Live coverage

Ceremonies in New York City will start at 8:30 a.m., ET Saturday, with the first moment of silence at 8:46. That will continue until about 1 p.m.; the major networks and news channels plan to start coverage at 8.

In addition, there will be ceremonies in Shanksville, Pa., at 9:45 a.m. And New York will have a “Tribute in Light” at sundown.

Broadcast, new

– “Frontline: America After 9/11,” 9-11 p.m. Tuesday (Sept. 7), PBS. For a moment, the World Trade Center attack seemed to bring Americans together. That was temporary, this documentary says; the reactions afterward launched an era of fear and mistrust.

– ““20/20: The Women of 9/11,” 9-11 p.m. Wednesday (Sept. 8), ABC. Robin Roberts talks to first-responders, women who lost loved ones – and the last person rescued from the rubble, who says she was “asking God to give me a miracle.” The miracle began with a dog finding her; she had been buried for 27 hours.

– “Race Against Time: The CIA and 9/11,” 8-10 p.m. Friday, CBS. This views the CIA’s failure to spot the Sept. 11 attack in advance … and its success in finding Osama bin Laden.

– “20/20.” 9-11 p.m. Friday, ABC. In the first hour, David Muir reports on ways 9/11 has changed America life; in the second, Diane Sawyer talks with 40 families that lost fathers that day.

– “Dateline,” 10 p.m. Friday, NBC. Lester Holt focuses on the flight that crashed near Shanksville, bringing some of the families together for the first time.

– “60 Minutes,” 7 p.m. Sunday (Sept. 12), CBS. The show’s season-opener, one day after the anniversary, will devote its hour to 9/11.

Cable, new

– “9/11: The Legacy,” 7 p.m. Friday, History. People discuss how their past 20 yers have been affected by the childhood events of Sept. 11.

– “Rise and Fall: The World Trade Center,” 8-10:03 p.m. Friday, History. This traces the creation of the WTC and then its destruction.

– “Too Soon: Comedy After 9/ll,” 8-10 p.m. Friday, Vice.

– “Detainee 001” (see separate story below), 9-11 p.m. Friday, Showtime, rerunning that night at 1 a.m. and Saturday at 11:30 a.m. A student of (and convert to) Islam, John Walker Lindh moved from California to Afghanistan at 19. He joined the Taliban’s fight against rebels … and continued after the U.S. joined those rebels. Once called “the American Taliban,” he spent almost 20 years behind bars. Much of the story is related via a battlefield interview 20 years ago.

– “The 9/11 Classroom,” 7 p.m. ET Saturday, CNN, rerunning at 11. Led by a passionate teacher, Florida first-graders had flourished in reading. George W. Bush visited them … and learned, during the session, that America was under attack. Twenty years later? One of the kids is a cop; another has been in prison twice. Most graduated from college, married, had children, retain this as a vivid influence.

– “Shine a Light,” 8 p.m. ET, CNN. Jake Tapper talks with young adults about the impact 9/11 has had on them. The hour includes music by Brad Paisley, Common, H.E.R. and Maroon 5.

– “NYC Epicenters 9/11 through 2021 and a Half” conclusion, 8-10 p.m. Saturday, HBO. This wraps Spike Lee’s look at New York, from the 2001 attacks to the current pandemic.

– “Surviving 9/11,” 8-10:09 p.m. Saturday, Discovery, rerunning at midnight. This looks at survival stories during the two hours after the crash … and at the 20 years since.

– “Four Flights,” 8-10:03 p.m. Saturday, History, re-running at 12:06 a.m. Here are stories of the people who were on the four hijacked flights.

– “9/11: I Was There,” 10:03 p.m. Saturday, History. Personal video diaries are weaved together.

Cable or streaming scripted movies

– “Come From Away,” arriving Friday, Apple TV+. This debuts a filmed version of a feel-good Broadway show, Tony-nominated for best musical. It tells the true story of a Canadian town welcoming thousands of people, after their flights were grounded.

– “United 93” (2006), 6-8 p.m. Saturday, Showtime; 8-11 p.m. Saturday, Bravo. This tells of the men who overtook hijackers, causing the flight to crash in Shanksville instead of hitting Washington, D.C.

Broadcast rerun

– “Generation 9/11” (see separate story below), 9-11 p.m. Friday, PBS. In all, 105 Americans were born after their fathers died during the 9/11 attack or the rescue attempts. Here are quietly moving portraits of six, plus one who was 4 when his dad died. They differ from each other in most ways – one is a singer-songwriter, another trains to be a soldier – but each has felt large and small impacts.

Cable reruns

– “Lost Calls of 9/11,” 7 p.m. ET Saturday, Fox News. This spotlights the story of a Houston man who bought some used computer equipment – then found that it included 103 never-before-heard calls from a trading-room floor across the street from the World Trade Center.

– “9/11,” 9-11 p.m. ET Saturday, CNN. A French crew happened to be filming a story about a young New York firefighter. That soon turned into a gripping portrait of the day; it won two Emmys, a Peabody Award and more.

— “9/11: One Day in America” (see separate story below), 9 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Friday, National Geographic; then 5:30 p.m. to midnight Saturady. This stunning film debuted two weeks ago, using old footage and new interviews to tell gripping stories of survival (mostly). The first part reruns Friday; then the entire thing airs Saturday.

– “102 Minutes That Changed America” (2008) uses footage from the day to tell the story virtually in real time. History runs it twice Friday (10:03 p.m. and 2:04 a.m.) and once Saturday (6 p.m.).

– History starts its marathons at 7 a.m. Friday and Saturday; its “Road to 9/11” series is from10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday.

–Discovery’s marathon is 9 a.m. to 10:09 p.m. Saturday.

– National Geographic’s is Friday, 2 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. and Saturday, 12:30 p.m. to midnight. That includes “Inside 9/11.” from 2-6 p.m., Friday, and “George W. Bush: The 9/11 Interview,” Friday night at 12:30 a.m. and then 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

(Now here are the separate stories from earlier; each is about a show that runs or reruns Sept. 10-11)

By Mike Hughes

The teen-agers featured on PBS would seem to have little in common.

Ronald Milam was an athlete; Nick Gorki was a cheerleader. Luke Taylor is an ROTC cadet, planning to be a soldier; Megan Fehling plays the guitar and re-reads “Catcher in the Rye.” Dina Retik promotes togetherness; Claudia Szurkowski says she “loves to argue.”

But “Generation 9/11” (rerunning from 9-11 p.m. Friday, Sept. 10) points to a much bigger link: Each is 19; each was born after his or her father died on Sept. 11, 2001.

“Just knowing that other people like me are out there is very comforting,” Gorki told the Television Critics Association, “whereas I felt so alone for the last 19 years.”

Added Szurkowski: “It has been crazy to think that there are so many over kids like me.”

There are believed to be 105 who were born after their dads were killed in the Sept. 11 attack or the rescue efforts. We meet six of them, plus Fares Malahi, who was a 3-year-old in Yemen when his dad was killed 7,000 miles away.

They were shaped early by 9/11 – “I always felt an obligation to mature faster,” Szurkowski said – and later by the pandemic. “If you stop and think about how much the world has been through in the last 19 years, it kind of blows your mind,” said director Liz Mermin.

Still, they have the youthful ability to put tragedy in one compartment and savor life. We see Fehling with her music, Milam with football, Ritak joining her mother’s fundraising bike rides to benefit Afghan women. “Getting to do something that I love and my family loves – and getting to create a whole community of cyclists to create some good somewhere else – is really exciting,” she said.

Her dad was on a plane that crashed into the World Trade Center tower … Taylor’s and Milam’s dads were in the Pentagon … Fehling’s was a firefighter … Gorki’s and Szurkowski’s were working in the World Trade Center, as a banker and a painter, respectively ….Malahi’s worked at an adjacent hotel; he died trying to usher people to safety.

By 2, Taylor had become an orphan. (His mother died of cancer and he talks warmly of the aunt and uncle who raised him.) Gorki was almost orphaned on Sept. 11; his mom had morning sickness and left the World Trade Center, shortly before his dad died there.

Many young people, we’re told, have times when they just want to be like everyone else. But these people couldn’t escape attention … which wasn’t always a bad thing.

Taylor recalled being showered with attention – including Christmas-morning gift-opening that lasted for hours. Added Retik: “Being ‘the 9/11 family’ – especially as a very young kid – just meant getting attention, love and support …. But once my younger (half-)sister was born, when I was 6 years old, we stopped being ‘the 9/11 family.’”

For Gorki, it was impossible to fade into the background, “especially becoming the only male cheerleader.” His search for identity was complicated.

“I wanted to belong, he said, “but I wanted to belong to the people who didn’t want to belong. It’s very odd …. It took me a very long time to kind of understand that belonging is OK.”

His final burst of cheerleader excitement vanished with the pandemic. Now he’s in the quieter world of studying computers at Purdue. Others are scattered.

After trying Texas Tech, Milam is back home in San Antonio, hoping to be a physician’s assistant. Retik is at Vermont, hoping to be an educator. Taylor is at Texas Christian, planning to go into the military like his father, who wasa lieutenant colonel.

Malahi, three years older than the others, had visa trouble and wasn’t able to emigrate (from Yemen to Dearborn, Mich.) until 2016. He now has his GED, studies at home and is an event videographer.

And Czurkowski’s first obsession was cop shows. She’s now criminal justice major at Florida Southwestern; law school – boosted by her fondness for arguing – should be next. “I just feel so driven to make change, and with my connection to 9/11, I feel like that just makes it stronger.”

By Mike Hughes

Looking back 20 years, to the waves of Sept. 11 tragedy, Joseph Pfeifer tries to focus on the positive.

This was a day when his fellow firefighters did what they always do, he said. They rushed in, found people, saved lives. They did “ordinary things – but at an extraordinary time in history.”

Pfeifer, 65, retired three years ago as assistant chief of the New York City Fire Department. Now he appears often in “9/11: One Day in America,” rerunning this weekend on the National Geographic Channel; it debuted Aug. 29-31 and repeats now – the first part Friday (Sept. 10) from 9 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., the entire film Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to midnight.

“The moment the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center, my life changed forever,” Pfeifer told the Television Critics Association.

At the time, he led Battalion 1, in Manhattan. The first chief to arrive at the World Trade Center, he set up command in the North Tower and began sending people up the stairs for rescues. That day, 344 firefighters – including his brother – would die.

But as he sees the film now, he spots the positive. “What I look for on that day are signs of hope …. You saw people together (and) stories of people caring for one another.”

Ron DiFrancesco – believed to be the last person to escape the South Tower – agreed, and compared that day to the current, fractured times.

“I think this documentary helps,” he said, “if it brings people back to the days of 9/11. (We can) look back on how good people were, right after that event, and maybe we can get there once again.”

There are a lot of stories to tell, producer Caroline Marsden said. “We went through almost 1,000 hours of film. We were working on it for about three years (and) interviewed about 54 people” on-camera, plus constant phone interviews.

The focus, producer Dan Lindsay said, was on “the people who were there and their personal stories.”

One was Jason Thomas, who had recently finished his time in the Marines. When he saw the events on TV, he put on his uniform and headed to the site. Joined by another Marine and a former emergency medical technician, he rescued a man from deep in the rubble.

Thomas has visited the 9/11 memorial. “It was beyond overwhelming,” he said, “when you look at the life that was lost, … the enormous amount of names.”

For Pfeifer, the first name that comes to mind is his brother, Kevin, who was unmarried. “We were his family, my kids and my sister’s kids were his family. My daughter now lives in the house he owned.”

Pfeifer spent the rest of his career focusing on the aftermath, setting up new training and procedures.

“One of the changes we made in New York City and throughout the country is that we needed to work together – fire, police, medical folks,” he said. “And we spent the last 20 years doing that.”

He was especially struck by last year’s linking of firefighters and medical people. “It was the moment where 9/11 met the pandemic and we saw a new generation of heroes. So while we feel things are falling apart, we have to look at … this sense of being together.”

By Mike Hughes

Decades after the collapse of the World Trade Center – and days after the collapse of Afghanistan – people are pondering some of the era’s odd twists.

Some of those involved John Walker Lindh – slender, studious, quiet and infamous. “He was like the poster boy for terrorism,” said Tresha Mabile, producer of “Detainee 001.”

Her documentary airs at 9 p.m. Friday (Sept. 10) on Showtime, rerunning at 1 a.m. and then at 11:30 a.m. Sunday. It’s in a two-day surge of films, timed to the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

A former California kid, Lindh was captured with a Taliban unit. He soon was dubbed “the American Taliban,” drawing rage and a 20-years prison sentence.

Things seemed simpler then, said Greg Barker, who directed the film. “We were vanquishing this evil. We were going to set the world right. That war in Afghanistan, those first weeks were so easy. Almost, looking back, sort of too easy. We thought the war going forward would be just as simple.”

Nothing was simple, as Lindh’s life illustrates.

He grew up in Maryland, moved to California at 10 and converted to Sunni Muslim at 16, the same year he got a general-equivalency degree. He lived in Yemen for a time at 17; two years later, he moved to Yemen, then on to Pakistan and to Afghanistan, to fight with the Taliban military.

That was with in 2000, when the Taliban ran the country and fought rebels. “The U.S. even had back channels with the Taliban,” Barker said, “so they weren’t our enemy.”

But Lindh stayed with them after the U.S. had joined the rebels. He was one of the soldiers captured on Nov. 25, 2001. Imprisoned in a fortress, they had a failed uprising; killed were several hundred prisoners and one American, CIA officer Mike Spann.

That hardened the case against Lindh, with several people alleging that he knew the attack was imminent, but said nothing. That has made him the target of many angry people … and of one surprisingly calm person, Spann’s daughter Alison, 27.

“She is an amazing human being,” Mabile said. “She is very stable.”

She was 9 when her father was killed – and when her mother died of cancer, five weeks later. “She has just pulled herself up (to help) raise her younger brother and sister,” Mabile said.

With a fund set up for the children’s education, she studied communication at Pepperdine University in Malibu. After other stops – then-Sen. Jeff Sessions’ office … Fox News … The Hill – she in 2018 became a news anchor for the Fox TV station in Biloxi, Miss.

She has kept track of the Lindh case – calmly, Mabile said. “We went to spend time with her on the day that (Lindh) was released. I expected to find a basket case, but I was so impressed.”

Now Lindh is 40 and free (at an undisclosed location) after 17-and-a-half years behind bars, including time in a “communications management unit” that was a form of solitary confinement.

That sounds cruel, Mabile said, but officials disagreed. “They said, ‘No, he wanted to be. He liked the solitary confinement.’ (He) is probably the world’s leading scholar on Islam … because he spent (almost) 20 years reading books in solitary confinement.”

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