NBC has planted its flag in "The 9/11 Commission Report," announcing with almost no additional details that it plans to produce a "limited series" to dramatize the events leading up to and including the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon "as delineated in the best-selling" document.
Bestseller (public-domain document, no expensive rights payment), big special effects, major disaster story line. The Perfect Miniseries.'
The only problem is that the report is in the public domain, so NBC can't secure exclusive rights to develop a 9/11 commission report TV project. That is why the network wanted to get its announcement out yesterday, even though it has so many deals on this project still outstanding.
Graham Yost will write and executive-produce the series, the network said. The details stop there.
Yost created and executive-produced "Boomtown," NBC's critically acclaimed but low-rated drama series, which averaged about 7 million viewers.
He also penned several episodes of "Band of Brothers," HBO's much-praised, low-rated (averaging 7 million viewers in its premiere telecasts), 10-part miniseries. And he was a supervising producer and wrote some episodes of "From the Earth to the Moon," a 12-part HBO miniseries -- lots of buzz, small audience (averaged 4 million in its premiere telecasts). (Both HBO projects had Tom Hanks attached.)
The network said it was "in discussion" with a "major producer" and "other top talent" to join the project, which is being produced at NBC's Universal Television Studios. That means it will be overseen by Henry Kissinger's son, David.
"With this most important subject matter, we're setting our sights on nothing short of a seminal event for television," NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly said in the announcement.
"We're going to bring together the highest caliber production elements beginning with the very talented Graham Yost and try to bring a cultural event to television that harkens back to the days of 'Roots' and 'The Day After.' "
He's referring to two ABC projects, the first of which aired over eight consecutive nights and remains the most watched miniseries in television history, opening with nearly 30 million households and wrapping with nearly 40 million. (Viewer numbers were not available in those days but would, obviously, have been higher than household numbers.) "The Day After," which aired in 1983 and also packed a ratings punch, was about the days leading up to and the day following a nuclear strike on the United States, killing millions.
"The fact that the 9/11 report is a bestseller is indicative of not only its importance but also the way in which the story of the events is laid out in a clean narrative fashion," Reilly continued. "And that is what we expect to do with this miniseries."
Added NBC Universal Television Studio co-presidents Kissinger and Angela Bromstad, simultaneously, in the announcement, "The only way we'd ever attempt a project like this is under the extremely capable auspices of Graham Yost, who can execute a project of this weight with the integrity it demands."
NBC said the series will "chronicle the swirl of secret activity that took place over the months and years preceding the planned attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and on the Pentagon," which NBC misplaces in Washington; it's in Virginia, but you knew that.
"The project will showcase the many heroes -- living and dead, recognized and unrecognized -- who thwarted early efforts and saved untold lives despite the chaos and horror that ensued," NBC continued, only then adding that "it will also examine the shortcomings in the system that helped set the stage for the actual attack."
Interestingly, NBC can do a whole miniseries about the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but The TV Column cannot use a photograph illustrating what happened on Sept. 11 because of this newspaper's sensitivity about the use of the photos. And yet, Americans love, love, love to look at disasters. In last May's ratings sweeps, NBC clocked 20 million viewers with its two-part miniseries "10.5," about the mother of all earthquakes, in which the entire West Coast breaks off, killing millions. It was NBC's most watched long-form project in five years.
Sensing it was onto something, the network has announced a sequel.
Jumping on that bandwagon, CBS in the upcoming November sweeps will pull out all the stops with its two-part miniseries "Category 6: Day of Destruction," about three cataclysmic weather systems that collide over Chicago, creating the worst superstorm in U.S. history, but only after they first cause the national power grid to collapse, making it impossible to warn anyone about the impending disaster, killing millions.
And let's not forget the summer blockbuster flick "The Day After Tomorrow" in which thousands of hurricanes, tornadoes, tidal waves, floods and the next Ice Age all come home on the very same day, killing millions.
"The Day After Tomorrow" ranks as the year's fifth biggest box-office draw with a domestic take of nearly $190 million.