As expected, Americans were fixated on their television sets Tuesday night as some 60 million people tuned into the major networks for news coverage surrounding the devastating terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. Viewing levels peaked between 8:30 and 9 pm when President Bush addressed the nation. Of course, that 60 million figure doesn't include the millions glued to cable channels such as CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. (Reportedly, 75 percent of all TV viewers were watching one of the broadcast or cable nets a number that some have called extraordinary.)
On a whole, critics have given high marks to the wall-to-wall coverage. "Mistakes have been few and swiftly corrected under the most trying of circumstances," enthused Ed Martin of the industry newsletter The Myers Report. "Every anchor person and every reporter on every network is to be commended." USA Today columnist Peter Johnson, meanwhile, applauded the TV news industry's cooperative and non-competitive spirit. "They've put the story and viewer interest first," he said, citing their decision to share all footage on Tuesday. "That most of the networks aren't trumpeting their ratings or noting their competitors' failings is significant."
Well, there was one skirmish: On Wednesday, CNN reportedly called members of the print media touting its Tuesday ratings a move New York Post critic Adam Buckman decried as shameless. "Who on Earth would call at a time like this to talk about ratings?" he groaned. Fox News said what its rival did was "despicable."
It was unclear when the four major networks planned to end its 'round-the-clock news coverage and return to normal programming, although NBC was hoping to do so Friday evening. ABC, CBS and NBC have delayed the launch of the new fall season by one week (Sept. 25 instead of Sept. 17). The WB had planned to kick off its season tonight with the debut of a new, revamped comedy block, but late yesterday it reversed that position. Said a network rep: "In recognition of the national day of prayer and remembrance, the WB will postpone its Friday night premieres." Fox and UPN are expected to proceed as scheduled.
Other attack-related developments in the TV and film worlds: