Difficult as it may be to believe, this year marks the 20-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The events of September 11th, 2001 altered our history forever, bringing a nation together out of the pain of tragedy while shining a light on the heroism of the first responders who risked their lives to save others.
Fittingly for a cataclysm that played out before us on our screens, television will be playing its part in commemorating this anniversary through a series of shows, specials, documentaries, and more. Let’s take a look at some of the best of this upcoming programming, and what it has to teach us about a day that anyone who lived through will never forget.
- National Geographic’s 9/11: One Day in America
The culmination of three years, 54 interviews, and 235 hours of material, National Geographic’s six-part documentary series “9/11: One Day in America” promises to be both epic and personal. Using never-before-seen footage, each episode will focus on a specific kind of heroism displayed on that fateful day, from the first firefighters to respond to the scene to paramedics combing for life under the rubble. Directed by Daniel Bogado and executive produced by the Emmy-Award winning 72 Films, the first episode premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival to great acclaim. Watch the trailer here—and you won’t want to miss the rest.
- The History Channel: four flights—and four documentaries
For its part, The History Channel will commemorate the date with four new documentaries totaling seven hours. 9/11: The Legacy will tell the story of the children whose lives were affected in one way or another by the tragedy. Rise and Fall: The World Trade Center will look at the conception, construction, and destruction of the towers from an architectural and engineering perspective. 9/11: Four Flights will tell the story of the four renowned flights from the perspectives of the family and friends of those who lost their lives on them. And 9/11: I Was There uses video footage taken by ordinary citizens to create an unforgettable portrayal of the day. As if this were not enough, the channel will also premiere a special podcast episode recounting the efforts of New York’s boat captains to ferry more than 500,000 people to safety.
- HBO and Spike Lee
Meanwhile, HBO is teaming up with legendary filmmaker Spike Lee to produce NYC Epicenters 9/11→ 2021½, a tribute to New York that will depict how the city’s diverse residents have been able to rebuild and rebound, not only from 9/11 but from more recent crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic. Based on over 200 interviews, the film will marshal a “staggering amount of visual imagery” to tell its story. This fourth collaboration between Lee and the network will air on both HBO and HBO Max.
The 20th anniversary of 9/11 will be a time, above all, for reflection and contemplation: of what we have lost, and of what more must be done. As the diverse offering of TV programming demonstrates, television aims to be an ongoing partner in the effort to learn from the past and to build towards a brighter and better future.