This is a show you may not want to see. It is hard to spend four hours with a documentary that exhaustively chronicles our nation's mistakes leading up to one terrible day... then recaptures that day, moment by moment.
But however daunting, "Inside 9/11" is an invaluable record. And no matter how much you may think you know about 9/11 (maybe even more than you want to) you will come away from this two-night miniseries sadder, yes - yet almost certainly wiser.
Airing 9 to 11 p.m. EDT Sunday and Monday on the National Geographic Channel, the film unfolds with awful inevitability. But it is in no rush to arrive at the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
Indeed, Sunday's program - "War on America" - devotes itself to setting the stage. It reaches back into history, including the 1979 Soviet-Afghan war as Osama bin Laden was transformed from the privileged son of a self-made billionaire into a terrorist mastermind.
As early as 1988 there were jihad outposts across the country - in cities including Tucson, Atlanta and Kansas City - and yet U.S. intelligence overlooked or discounted their stated mission: "Blood must flow. There must be widows. There must be orphans."
Journalist and terrorism expert Steve Emerson declares in the film: "9/11 occurred with 19 guys living here under their own names, registering their own drive's licenses, and yet able to outmaneuver a $30 billion intelligence agency network."
Monday's program, "Zero Hour," centers on Sept. 11, tracking the four terrorist teams and the government's response to their attacks; deconstructing events at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and on board hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 before it crashed in Pennsylvania.
Drawing on archival footage, taped recordings, newly declassified documents and more than 60 new interviews, the film becomes a chilling "tick-tock" that begins at the airport in Portland, Maine, where ring leader Mohamed Atta and a fellow terrorist checked in for American Airlines Flight 11.
In an interview, the ticket agent recalls Atta's hateful look. Video shows the pair passing through security. Then, all too soon, Atta, at the flight controls of the doomed jetliner, is heard through a radio transmission. His target, of course, will be the World Trade Center's north tower.
It's a tough day to relive. But "Inside 9/11" makes it worth your while.
Other shows to look out for:
- Tickle U, Cartoon Network's new programming block for preschool children, begins Monday with a lineup of original animated series, computer-image hosts and the "Mommy Bar," a graphic feature that gives parents and caregivers information on this programming. Tickle U promises programs "designed specifically to help preschoolers learn to have a sense of humor about life." They include "Gordon the Garden Gnome," "Harry and His Bucket Full of Dinosaurs" and a revival of long-ago favorite "Gerald McBoing Boing," based on the Dr. Seuss character. Tickle U airs weekdays 9 to 11 a.m.
- After seeing so many kids abused and neglected when their parents are jailed, Marilyn Gambrell quits her job as a Texas parole officer and, with her colleague Perry Beasley, creates a groundbreaking program at one of Houston's toughest high schools. Her goal: To break the vicious cycle that finds these kids - some with parents and even grandparents imprisoned - almost inevitably following in their footsteps. Jami Gertz ("Still Standing") and Ernie Hudson ("Miss Congeniality") star in "Fighting the Odds: The Marilyn Gambrell Story," premiering 9 p.m. Monday on Lifetime. Adapted from real life, this inspiring drama includes a cameo appearance by the actual Gambrell, as well as five students from the No More Victims program she founded.
- G4, the cable network dedicated to video games, takes a hard look at the issue of sex in video games. The program explores how sexuality is used in games, and cites both early examples from the first Atari console as well as the current "Hot Coffee" content on "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas." Industry experts include game developer Joe Minton and Chuck Osborn of PC Gamer magazine. Then, in a specially convened forum, political pundits, retailers, game developers and concerned parents sound off on the subject. "Sex in Games: A G4 Special Report" airs 11 p.m. Tuesday.