9/11 Five Years Later

TV specials give perspective on the tragic day

As the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, approach their fifth anniversary, several programs focusing on various aspects of the dreadful day will air in the coming weeks. They range from CNN's In the Footsteps of Bin Laden to Court TV's On Native Soil to ABC miniseries The Path to 9/11.

In addition to the special programs, there will be exhaustive looks at 9/11 by network news departments: what brought on the attacks and how they continue to affect America. Among theatrical releases, Oliver Stone's high-profile film World Trade Center debuts Aug. 9.

Network executives wrestled with how to handle their 9/11 coverage. Some wonder if there will be an oversaturation of such programming. They also wonder if airing comedies on the anniversary is inappropriate.

The programs' creators believe that America is ready for a painful examination of what went wrong five years ago. “I think this is going to bring a lot of discussion to the forefront,” says David L. Cunningham, director of The Path to 9/11. “I think people are going to be shocked, people are going to be angry, and, hopefully, people will act on those emotions.”

Linda Ellman, director of On Native Soil, felt a sense of responsibility in communicating the message of the published 9/11 Commission Report: “Seeing as it's a 500-page book, [people] put it on their shelf and left it there. I thought it was important that Americans be aware of the outrageous things that went on that are really hiding in plain sight.”

Past 9/11-themed programs have garnered strong ratings. Flight 93 was A&E's most-watched program since the network's launch in 1984, and Discovery's The Flight That Fought Back was the network's highest-rated program last year. National Geographic miniseries Inside 9/11 propelled the channel to its highest day and week averages ever.

Following is a roundup of noteworthy 9/11 programs that will air in the next few weeks:






Countdown to Ground Zero


Aug. 13, 8 p.m. ET

Carsten Oblaender

The events that led up to the attacks, the attacks themselves, and what the tragedy cost us afterwards are all covered. The stories of firefighters, hijackers and FBI veterans are presented with archival footage, interviews and dramatic re-creations.

The Miracle of Stairway B


Aug. 14, 8 p.m.

Steve Humphries

When a plane crashed into the North Tower, one office worker, a Port Authority cop, and 12 firefighters fought to escape. Their stories are recounted from their day's typical beginning to the catastrophic end.

On Native Soil

Court TV

Aug. 21, 10 p.m.

Linda Ellman

Based on the 9/11 Commission Report, the documentary studies both the attacks and the Commission hearings. Narrated by Kevin Costner and Hilary Swank, the film connects on a personal level by interviewing affected families.

In the Footsteps of Bin Laden


Aug. 23, 9 p.m.

Mark Nelson (EP)

Footage features more than 20 first-person accounts from people who knew bin Laden throughout each stage of his life. Correspondent Christiane Amanpour narrates never-before-seen recordings and interviews to trace the development of bin Laden's beliefs.

The Final Report: Osama's Escape

National Geographic

Aug. 29, 10 p.m.

Jonathan Towers

Why can't a superpower find one of the most dangerous men alive? This documentary studies a question that has plagued America ever since 9/11 and delves into how close we came and how bin Laden has managed to elude his pursuers.

The Path to 9/11


Sept. 10 and 11, both at 8 p.m.

David L. Cunningham

Miniseries stars Harvey Keitel as FBI Agent John O'Neill and features performances by Patricia Heaton and Donnie Wahlberg, with 24 alum Penny Johnson Jerald as Condoleezza Rice.

Dust to Dust: The Health Effects of 9/11


Sept. 11, 10 p.m.

Heidi Dehncke-Fisher

Documentary discusses how the toxins at Ground Zero are responsible for numerous illnesses and whether safety information provided by the Feds made things worse.