Special Reports

Little schmaltz, lots of thought on Sept. 11 TV

In the world of TV, Wednesday was a day of Olympic-size proportion and consequence. It was a day when seasoned, well-prepared and more contemplative stations - both local and national - walked ahead in the boob tube pack.

Locally, KING and KIRO made the smartest choices, crafting their coverage to let the Seattle memorial services carry the emotion of the day without larding on mawkishness from their reporters and anchors.

KOMO, usually awash in schmaltz, seemed overly cautious this time, relying too heavily on network coverage during the day and saving their own reports for late afternoon.

And until their evening newscasts, all skipped live coverage of events taking place anywhere but in Seattle.

Nationally, NBC, ABC and CBS began at 4 a.m. Pacific time, but the race for best coverage began when former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani began reading what would be 2,801 names at 5:50 a.m.

The winner? CBS. Despite anchorman Dan Rather's lack of emotional restraint last year, and his distracting suntan this year, the network returned with grace and dignity.

Without flash or fakery, CBS showed photos of the people whose names were called. For those who didn't have photos, the network showed a small icon of a red, white and blue ribbon.

Like the other networks, CBS cut to a tribute ceremony at the Pentagon and another one in Shanksville, Pa. But unlike them, CBS never stopped showing the victims' photos, reminding viewers that though you weren't hearing the names, thousands of innocent people had lost their lives.

Simple and moving, one could not help but be choked up when photos of 3-year-old David Reed Gamboa Brandhorst and his adopted father, Daniel Raymond Brandhorst, 41, flashed at the bottom of the screen. The pair was aboard one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center.

Not that other networks didn't do fine jobs at humanizing their Sept. 11 stories. Later in the day, ABC dug deep and told amazing stories of survivors and incredibly touching stories about people who'd lost their fathers, husbands and even twin siblings.

In contrast, NBC came across as rambunctious, cutting in during the New York tribute with interviews, comments and other stories.

Later, local stations started presenting original programming.

KING had been doing that all along, taking advantage of its sister station KONG to give viewers local reports that went beyond Sept. 11 stories.

KIRO displayed the best balance overall, tempering the national coverage with timely local reports.

Once he finally got on the air, KOMO anchor Dan Lewis offered several compelling tales about people attending the ground zero memorial.

There was a newlywed couple determined to show their patriotism and support by honeymooning in New York. Another vignette featured a firefighter who lost one of his colleagues. The man paid tribute to his deceased friend by taping the man's photo inside his hat.

But KOMO subjected viewers to a hokey tribute episode of "Live with Regis and Kelly." The lowest blow came when singer Jon Secada performed, wearing a hairdo that looked like a frazzled cat was sitting on his head.

Despite a few exceptions, this was TV news' best day since last Sept. 11.

Mekeisha Madden: 253-274-7380 mekeisha.madden@mail.tribnet.com.