As a horror unfolded
CBS to air documentary on first moments of WTC attack
By Steve McClellan -- Broadcasting & Cable, 2/10/2002 7:00:00 PM
CBS will take a different approach to selling commercials for an unusually visceral documentary about the World Trade Center tragedy that will air on the eve of the attack's six-month anniversary, March 10.
The network will air a two-hour prime time special on the terrorist attack, as seen through the eyes of two French filmmakers who happened to be shooting a documentary about a New York Fire Department unit stationed near Ground Zero on Sept. 11.
The filmmakers, brothers Gedeon and Jules Naudet, captured the only known footage of the first plane to strike the World Trade Center. Shots of that hit have been widely distributed, but the duo then accompanied the firefighters as they raced to the scene. The result, which has not been telecast, includes 45 minutes of footage inside the North Tower as the rescue effort was under way, before the buildings collapsed.
"It is not an exaggeration to say," said CBS President Leslie Moonves, "that nothing quite like it has ever been broadcast before."
CBS said last week it will sell commercials to only a small number of advertisers—perhaps just one and no more than three—and will air commercials only at the top and the end of the broadcast. NBC used a similar approach when it aired Schindler's List in 1997.
The network acquired domestic broadcast rights to the footage for a figure said to be less than $1 million. CBS News Senior Vice President Betsy West will serve as executive in charge, and the news division's Susan Zirinsky will serve as one of at least six executive producers. But it is not a production of the news department.
Why not? First and foremost, says the William Morris Agency's Ben Silverman, who helped put the deal together, "It's not a CBS News film; it's the Naudets'." Second, the filmmakers and others involved in selling the footage want to donate proceeds to a charity fund, which violates CBS News ethical guidelines.
The Naudets will serve as executive producers, as will James Hanlon, a firefighter with Ladder 1, the unit the Naudets were documenting. The project was brought to CBS by Vanity Fair magazine Editor Graydon Carter through William Morris. The magazine has a feature story on the Naudets in its March issue, which hit newsstands last week.
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