Television has historically operated by its own peculiar calendar: The seasonal September kickoff timed to new car models, "very special" sweeps stunts, and a summer siesta in May.
But now, courtesy primarily of cable networks and their yawning demand for programming, we have a new wrinkle: the tragedy re-visitation calendar.
Hungry for promotable hooks, execs and producers have reached a point where every historic event -- and let's face it, few of those are happy occasions -- is commemorated with a slew of recaps and remembrances. In the same way Discovery has created an annual event around "Shark Week" by reliably ringing the dinner bell every summer, networks keep dredging up greatest hits from the past.
The run-up to fall has become especially crowded in this regard. Multiple programs are timed to the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, as the network news divisions descend on
But at the risk of mixing tragedies, that's just the tip of the iceberg. The documentary specials are highlighted by
Finally -- and most incongruously -- there's "The Gulf Is Back," a CW concert hosted by
From Katrina, the calendar shifts to
Getting a jump on the pack, Investigation Discovery -- which has a way with titles -- has already announced "Why Is Bin Laden Alive?" for
It's human nature to reflect on milestones, perhaps, but arbitrarily transforming such dates into an excuse for a made-for-TV deluge appears more pragmatic and cynical. Everyone old enough remembers where they were when
The tragedy calendar is well stocked with benchmarks throughout the year.
The next few weeks encompass Katrina, the death of
January will mark a year since the devastating Haitian earthquake.
It's now accepted practice to commemorate
In addition to Jackson's death, June includes the Simpson-Goldman murders,
About the only disaster TV has overlooked is "Ishtar's" release in
This is not intended to diminish or trivialize these events, and in the spirit of generosity, let's resist the temptation to suggest networks have. Yet the practice does invite a simple question: Does it make sense, even from a programming standpoint, for all this commemorative fare to arrive in an unruly, simultaneous burst? And wouldn't it be more logical for such programs to arise when there's something new to say, as opposed to merely because another 12 months have elapsed?
Then again, maybe all this will look different next August. After all, time has way of changing one's perspective, and by then, we'll be ready to celebrate this column's first anniversary.
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(c) 2010 Brian Lowry, Variety