From TV Information Tickers to Homeland: The Methods TV Was Affected By 9/11

From TV Information Tickers to Homeland: The Methods TV Was Affected By 9/11

There’s a lengthy checklist of the way America was reworked by the terrorist assaults that destroyed the Twin Towers on 9/11/2001. However the query of how TV itself was modified – notably in methods nonetheless related immediately – is extra difficult.
CNBC anchor Shepard Smith, who lined the assault and its aftermath when he labored at Fox Information Channel, factors to a small however impactful TV innovation: the fixed presence of an onscreen information ticker, scrolling by way of headlines, on cable information channels.
It could not sound like a lot immediately, given how so many people now juggle a number of screens directly. However in 2001, the concept of crowding TV screens with altering bursts of knowledge was comparatively new – required by the deluge of information pouring into newsrooms relating to the deadliest terrorist assault on American soil.
“We had an data overload again then, the likes of which we by no means actually skilled earlier than,” says Smith, now anchor of The Information with Shepard Smith on CNBC. Within the flood of 24/7 steady information protection that adopted the assaults, he remembers Fox Information Channel founder Roger Ailes insisting again then that the channel needed to get extra information in entrance of viewers.
“He thought that CNBC on the time did job of getting loads of data on the display screen,” he provides. “I really feel like 9/11 helped us study to course of all of it.”
To check some concepts about how TV was reworked by 9/11, I spoke to a variety of specialists, from discuss present hosts to producers on fictional sequence. Many adjustments had been related to TV’s reflection of Individuals and the concept of America itself – notions that had been challenged by a lethal assault by a terrorist group many Individuals had by no means heard of earlier than that day.
“Arguably, [9/11 news coverage] was one of many final examples of a typical information tradition, the place the nation was knit collectively by these horrendous assaults… united by a typical enemy,” says Andrew Heyward, who was president of CBS Information throughout 9/11 — noting that broadcast networks shifted into cable information mode, providing steady protection, with no commercials, from the assault on a Tuesday by way of to Saturday.

Aaron Brown, who anchored CNN’s 9/11 protection that day from a rooftop, says the catastrophe additionally helped cement the concept TV information – particularly cable information channels – had been anticipated to supply steady protection of main information occasions extra typically.
Brown notes, as an alternative of spending 24 hours protecting a variety of topics, main American cable information channels excelled after they had one huge, extremely emotional story to cowl that the viewers would not dare flip away from.
“The lesson of 9/11 was that you simply want one nice story,” he provides, noting that cable information channels nonetheless are likely to cowl a slender vary of common tales every day. “You’re feeling like a schmuck should you say, [after covering a huge tragedy], ‘Let me let you know concerning the climate.'”
Late evening discuss reveals discovered voice in tragedy
Today, viewers are used to late evening discuss present talking out after a momentous nationwide occasions, channeling the feelings of their viewers into heartfelt speeches. Comedians like Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel and Trevor Noah do that fairly commonly; on the whole lot from the Jan. 6 riot on the Capitol constructing to the homicide of George Floyd.
However that TV custom can be a 9/11 legacy, which started when David Letterman introduced his Late Present again to CBS simply six days after the assaults.
“There is just one requirement for any of us and that’s to be brave,” Letterman mentioned then, admitting in that second that he – like many viewers – may be feeling confused, indignant and filled with grief. “Braveness, as you may know, defines all different human habits. And I imagine — as a result of I’ve completed slightly of this myself — pretending to be brave is simply pretty much as good as the true factor.”

Later, Jon Stewart would supply related ideas on The Every day Present, and Saturday Night time Stay would characteristic then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani giving a somber speech earlier than a bunch of firefighters earlier than government producer Lorne Michaels requested if the present might be humorous once more (“Why begin now?” Giuliani deadpanned.).
However Letterman had proven that his New York-based present would embody the comeback spirit of town by returning to work as quickly as potential. Within the course of, he set a robust instance: within the face of monumental occasions, hosts had been now anticipated to deal with it severely earlier than returning to work.
And there was nothing — not even an assault that killed 1000’s within the metropolis — that might hold these reveals off the air for lengthy (Tonight Present host Jimmy Fallon has mentioned he had Letterman’s 9/11 present in thoughts final yr, when he determined to renew internet hosting his present from his house throughout the COVID lockdowns.)
“Letterman established the rule… and that had great affect,” mentioned Robert Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Heart for Tv and Widespread Tradition at Syracuse College. “It is like, in case your dad by no means cries, then when he cries, you listen.”
Fictional reveals react to American frustration, anger
On the opposite aspect of the nation, hours after the assault, the creator of NBC’s hit political drama The West Wing started planning discover the problems raised by Al-Qaeda’s assault.
The end result was a landmark episode known as “Isaac and Ishmael,” written by creator Aaron Sorkin that aired on NBC three weeks after 9/11. The story toggles between two situations: many of the characters discuss by way of terrorism points with a bunch of highschool college students briefly confined within the White Home throughout an emergency drill, whereas the Chief of Employees unfairly grills a Muslim staffer who had the identical title as an alias utilized by a needed terrorist.
The episode itself was often clunky and preachy. However Kevin Falls, a co-executive producer on The West Wing on the time, mentioned the assaults had modified the world’s perspective about international coverage and terrorism a lot, the present needed to acknowledge what occurred, even obliquely.
“What Aaron was doing was vital as a result of we had been all united and really indignant about what occurred and possibly thirsting for some revenge,” Falls says. “So he really tapped the brakes and mentioned ‘Hey, keep in mind to place a face on this and never embody all Muslim Individuals with a broad brush.'”
Now Falls serves as a co-executive producer on NBC’s hit household drama This Is Us, which confronted an identical problem final yr because the present determined to incorporate storylines addressing actual world occasions just like the pandemic and the affect of George Floyd’s killing. One of many present’s characters, a veteran of Afghanistan, is a reminder of 9/11’s legacy, permitting the sequence to ask deeper questions concerning the harm ensuing from lengthy, punishing American army operations in distant components of the world.
“The Vietnam vets felt betrayed by their nation; the Afghan battle vets, loads of them really feel that they’ve betrayed the individuals in Afghanistan,” Falls provides. “Our present wears its feelings on its sleeves… we will not ignore that.”
“24” and “Homeland”: reveals formed by 9/11’s legacy

Government producer Howard Gordon labored on two fictional reveals which have come to represent how 9/11 affected and impressed TV storytelling: Fox’s 24 and Showtime’s Homeland.
On 24, which debuted just some months after 9/11, Kiefer Sutherland’s stalwart authorities agent, Jack Bauer, would do no matter it takes to cease a nasty factor from occurring. Gordon says, notably after the present’s first season, Bauer turned a proxy for America’s post-9/11 anger at terrorists and any incompetent or corrupt authorities officers who made it more durable to cease them.
However over time, producers heard from advocates for Muslims and army officers who mentioned storylines that includes a Muslim household in America as a secret terrorist cell and scenes of Bauer successfully utilizing torture to extract data had been encouraging prejudices and misinforming viewers.
The priority: {That a} deal with American and Christian views was resulting in damaging story selections.
Gordon says he was stunned to see response to 9/11 and wars abroad flip his kinetic motion thriller into “this crucible for these very, very radioactive and difficult, soul-searching concepts… (It) actually pressured me, and I feel all of us, to do a intestine verify.”
Such points surfaced once more on Homeland, the Showtime sequence Gordon started engaged on quickly after he completed 24’s unique run on Fox. Teaming with longtime colleague Alex Gansa, he tailored an Israeli TV drama known as Prisoners of Battle into the sequence — centered on an American soldier returned to the U.S. after he was held captive by al-Qaeda, and his connection to a feminine CIA officer who suspects he has been brainwashed.
Gordon says the sequence allowed him to extra deeply discover themes hinted at in 24. Nonetheless, the present was additionally criticized for an Americanized standpoint that led to problematic portrayals of Muslims and nations within the Center East, together with an incident the place graffiti artists employed to embellish one of many present’s units wrote messages in Arabic accusing this system of racism.
“It was a sobering second,” says Gordon, who provides the present labored tougher to keep away from stereotypical depictions of Muslims after that incident. “As cautious and inclusive as we tried to be, we nonetheless failed. And even now, we’re nonetheless asking ourselves what occurred [in Afghanistan]… was it folly? What’s America’s place on the planet? I feel I am as confused now as I used to be again then.”
Dissenting voices struggled for visibility
Phil Donahue says reluctance amongst some TV networks to query the battle in Iraq after 9/11 helped finish his TV profession.
Donahue, already a TV legend for creating and internet hosting his long-running self-named daytime discuss present, started internet hosting a chat present on MSNBC in 2002. He had hoped to make this system a showcase for his skepticism concerning the Iraq battle, however discovered the cable channel reluctant to problem the Bush administration’s drive towards battle.

“I believed I used to be going to be successful as a result of I used to be totally different,” says Donahue, now age 85. “Everyone else was beating the battle drums, and I needed to get on the air and say ‘Why are you doing this?’ Nevertheless it was clear, after awhile, they needed aggressive individuals who had been patriotic and any form of head-scratching that we tried to just do wasn’t welcome.”
Again then, MSNBC had totally different possession and executives; it hadn’t but developed a lineup of liberal-oriented pundits (full disclosure: I often seem on the channel as a media analyst). TV information anchors throughout the dial had been dealing with stress to put on American flag pins on their lapels and discuss present host Invoice Maher noticed his present Politically Incorrect canceled by ABC in 2002, after he sparked controversy by saying not lengthy after 9/11 that the aircraft hijackers weren’t cowards.
In 2003, referencing disappointment together with his scores, MSNBC canceled Donahue’s present after lower than a yr on air. However Donahue is satisfied public stress to help a president who mentioned he was preventing again in opposition to terrorists helped do him in. “The reporting of unhealthy information is extra vital than the excellent news,” Donahue says. “However for a very long time, it was very onerous to make that time. The jingoism has actually created a roadblock to reality.”
CNBC’s Shepard Smith, who left Fox Information in 2019 amid disagreements with hosts from a few of the channel’s opinion reveals, says he remembers being handed a flag pin to put on on air after 9/11 and seeing the channel after 9/11 turn into extra jingoistic, with photos of the American flag onscreen.
Smith says he tried to deal with conventional reporting and staying measured to reassure viewers.
“The very last thing you need to do is unnecessarily add extra angst and heartache, worry or division,” he provides. “The best way you current data issues quite a bit when issues are at their most excessive, essentially the most dramatic… When s—‘s hitting the fan, you have to be the voice of calm.”
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