television's news programs plan for their Sept. 11 anniversary
programming with specials offering somber reflection and spiritual
uplift, the late-night personalities who swim in the daily faux
pas and comic excesses of news and entertainment have a less
So NBC's "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" and "Late Night With
Conan O'Brien" will go ahead with original shows on Sept. 11,
while David Letterman, currently on vacation, is mulling what,
if anything, to do that night. Comedy Central's "The Daily Show
With Jon Stewart," meanwhile, which needs free and unfettered
access to news parody, will do normal shows on Sept. 9, 10 and
12 but not on Sept. 11.
"Late Night" executive producer Jeff Ross said of his New York-based
program's plans: "We're not sure what we're doing yet. We obviously
have to address the day."
Ross said doing a show on Sept. 11 was discussed but not hotly
debated internally. "It wasn't anything more than it came up.
I called the network, [and] they said they expect us to do a
NBC officials were unavailable to discuss the issue.
The challenge facing the comedians is not simply how to properly
mark the day but also how to fit in with the programs that will
precede their shows that night. The broadcast networks are assembling
prime-time news specials designed to be in line with the expected
mood of the day (news specials, including Fox's "The Day America
Changed," and an all-star concert on NBC).
But what do you do on a late-night talk show, particularly a
comedy-focused program, on a day when television is expected
to provide saturation coverage of a nightmare that's still fresh
in viewers' minds?
CBS approached Letterman about doing a show. When he balked,
CBS suggested a re-airing of his emotional broadcast on Sept.
18, a week after the attacks, when "CBS Evening News" anchor
Dan Rather choked up. At the time, Letterman, the first of the
late-night hosts to return, was credited with laying the foundation
for his competitors, all of whom followed suit with their own
heartfelt "the show must go on" preambles.
Letterman indicated that he neither wanted to do an original
show nor rerun the Sept. 18 broadcast, evidently concerned that
he would appear to be grandstanding. On Thursday, however, word
came that Letterman is still considering doing a show on Sept.
11, though no one from "Late Show With David Letterman," which
is on hiatus, would comment. Letterman's decision would presumably
also determine whether CBS' 12:35 a.m. "The Late Late Show with
Craig Kilborn," which is produced by Letterman's Worldwide Pants
production company, works that day.
Meanwhile, whatever plans or concerns "The Tonight Show" has
are unclear; no one from the show was available for comment.
"The Tonight Show" used Arizona Sen. John McCain as its first
post-Sept. 11 guest ("We will prevail. We will prevail," McCain
proclaimed), and the show plans once again to turn to McCain
as its unofficial crisis counselor. Leno, it is presumed, will
do a monologue, though it is difficult to imagine a more awkward
context for his mild populist gibes at the day's headlines.
"Saturday Night Live" doesn't have its season premiere until
"All I know right now is that we're dreading the reliving of
the feelings, dreading the anniversary, dreading having to work
in a comedy-producing environment in that context again," said
Madeleine Smithberg, "The Daily Show's" executive producer.
The show's staff returns from a two-week vacation Sept. 9.
The Comedy Central series' slings and arrows at broadcast news
pomposity have earned it critical and popular acclaim. Smithberg
noted that "The Daily Show" faces a greater challenge than the
late-night talk shows, given that so much of "The Daily Show"
is predicated on lampooning the news.
"Your role as a human being supercedes your role as a satirist,"
she said. (The sentiment was echoed a year ago by "Daily Show"
host Jon Stewart, who, in an earnest post-Sept. 11 on-air speech,
said: "There were no jobs available for a man in the fetal position
under his desk crying, which I would have gladly taken. So I
came back here.")
In the show's 11 p.m. time slot, Comedy Central will rerun a
"Daily Show" special featuring its correspondents.
Booking guests for Sept. 11 presents its own set of challenges.
"We have been--'besieged' is the wrong word--inundated would
be more accurate, by media requests from both print and TV to
be a part of their Sept. 11 coverage," said Stan Rosenfield,
publicist for such name actors as Will Smith, Robert De Niro
and George Clooney.
"Our clients just have kind of told me individually, and this
is also my feeling ... , we don't care to be a part of it. This
is about media coverage and not about the event."
"The Daily Show's" Smithberg agrees."We're going to be reliving
it in such a way that newspapers can sell newspapers and networks
can get ratings," Smithberg said. "The overall effect is that
you become numb to something you should never become numb to."