ABC NEWS POUNDS ABC ENTERTAINMENT'S PATH

ABC aired Pt. 1 of its controversial The Path to 9/11 miniseries largely intact Sunday amid protests from former government officials depicted in the film. It was immediately followed by a special edition of Nightline that contradicted virtually all of the film's allegations against the officials. (The controversy was also covered earlier in the week on ABC's World News with Charles Gibson.) Among those who had expressed outrage over the film's content were former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger. In addition, the network had reportedly received hundreds of thousands of messages from Democrats. Protests were also organized outside the ABC headquarters in New York and Burbank, CA. On its website, ABC News posted "a sampling of written complaint regarding ABC Entertainment's film." They included comments from former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, who served under both Clinton and George H.W. Bush and is depicted in the film, who called the film "an egregious distortion that does a deep disservice both to history and to those ... depicted." Bruce R. Lindsey, CEO of the Clinton Foundation, wrote, "As a nation, we need to be focused on preventing another attack, not fictionalizing the last one for television ratings. ... [The film] cheapens the fifth anniversary of what was a very painful moment in history for all Americans." On the other hand, the ABC News site also posted a message from the Traditional Values Coalition, which posted the deleted footage on its website at http://traditionalvalues.org/clinton_abc.html. The group's chairman, the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, wrote: "ABC-TV has surrendered. ... ABC-TV has now been proven to be owned and operated by Mr. Clinton and the vast left wing conspiracy. ABC's lack of spine is what is 'despicable,' not this factual program." On ABC's primary website, www.ABC.com, David Cunningham, the film's director, wrote, "The eight years from the first WTC bombing to the day of 9/11 involved two administrations with plenty of culpability all around. Something needs to explain how that happened."

ABC GARNERS BIG RATINGS FOR PATH

The first night of The Path to 9/11 performed strongly in the ratings, coming in second only to Sunday Night Football on NBC. The miniseries posted a 7.6 rating and a 12 share in the 8:00 p.m. hour, then rose to a 7.6/11 at 9:00 p.m., finally peaking with a 7.9/13 during the 10:00 p.m. hour. ABC faces another difficulty when it airs Pt. 2 of The Path to 9/11 tonight (Monday) -- a speech by President Bush scheduled for 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time, one hour into the broadcast. Daily Variety reported that, as a result, a report by ABC News about the contents of the miniseries, scheduled to air following its conclusion, might be shortened.

AOL TO PREVIEW TIME WARNER-PRODUCED SEASON OPENERS

The merger of AOL and Time Warner, which was largely regarded as a failure at creating synergy between the old and new media, will enter a new phase today (Monday) when AOL is expected to announce that it will present two Time Warner Television-produced premiere episodes on AOL.com early next month. The episodes of the shows, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and Twenty Good Years, will go online on Oct. 4, a full week before they are due to debut on NBC.

NIGHTLINE GROWS KOPPEL'S AUDIENCE

Despite concerns expressed by Ted Koppel in his valedictory comments on his final Nightline telecast last year that ABC would fill the time period with comedy shows if viewers did not watch his successors, the show is now actually averaging 9 percent more viewers than it did when Koppel was hosting it, the Wall Street Journal reported today (Monday). In fact, it said, the program is now sometimes beating CBS's Late Show with David Letterman in the ratings. Changes to Nightline have received a mixed reaction from its staff, according to the WSJ. Correspondent John Donvan told the newspaper that by expanding the topics on Nightline, the producers have increased the number of stories he can cover. However, the Journal added, other former Nightline staffers say that under Koppel they viewed it "as the best place to work at ABC News, but they don't see it that way anymore." But in an interview with the newspaper, ABC News President David Westin said, ""All of us had questions about how 'Nightline' would fare once Ted Koppel left, and while there's no such thing as tenure in the TV business, we are very pleased with the program today. ... We're not talking about whether it will survive; we're talking about how to make it stronger."

Brian B. at Movieweb
Brian B.