BROOKE GLADSTONE: The media's current quiet obsession is not missing children or malfeasant magnates. It's how to mark the tragedy of September 11th, and just as important, how to pay for it. Networks are hardpressed to find sponsors, and Fox has decided to drop ads all together. This week Wall Street Journal columnist Tunku Varadarajan conceded that when the networks dropped commercials in the days after the tragedy, it was consistent with, quote, "the mood of the moment and the rapid rearrangement of priorities that followed the first taste of shock but," he says, shrinking from commercials on the first anniversary would be, quote, "purely and hollowly symbolic -- even self-indulgent; even," he suggests, cowardly -- motivated by a fear that ads would alienate consumers. Joining me now is TV Guide's Max Robins. So, Max, what's the current thinking on the anniversary in TV land?
MAX ROBINS: The networks all have extensive coverage planned. However, advertisers by and large don't really want to be a part of it. There's kind of a sense of they may be somehow exploiting the situation. That's the last thing any advertiser wants to be perceived as doing. It also, too, may be a business decision. There is going to be so much coverage that even if you prepared, advertising geared to the day and more in the sense of--sponsorship, you'll still be lost in the clutter and emotion of the day.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It isn't just the advertisers; the networks themselves are shrinking from actually beating the bushes for advertisers.
MAX ROBINS:The networks are [LAUGHS] being uncharacteristically sensitive on how they approach this and they too don't want to appear like they're exploiting this, and there seems to be a collective sense of this is a day where we're not going to make money, and what they're looking for as one network executive put it to me, we'll look a lot more like PBS than a commercially sponsored network.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Well, you know that reminds me - back in April CBS had its own acclaimed documentary -- it was called 9/11 -- and Nextel was the sponsor, but it didn't interrupt the show and it didn't clobber us with a hard sell. It was, it was more like a public broadcasting underwriting credit. Could that be a model for advertisers on the anniversary?
MAX ROBINS: That very much is the model, and what sponsorship you will see will probably look very similar to what Nextel did with CBS's 9/11 documentary. [CLIP OF NEXTEL ANNOUNCEMENT]
TIM DONOHUE:Good evening. I'm Tim Donohue, president and CEO of Nextel Communications. Welcome to this special presentation of 9/11. Tonight we'll see a remarkable film that captures the extraordinary bravery of the firefighters that fought desperately to save lives at the World Trade Center.
MAX ROBINS: A major media buyer told me that this is a really polarizing issue! That you have about a third of the advertising community that says we're not going to go near it. Another third that says we want to step up; we're just not so sure how to do it; and then there's another third that is really kind of on the fence and wary but not decisively out of the game.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What about advertising from Wall Street companies -- the ones that suffered a direct and lingering impact from the attacks?
MAX ROBINS:At CNN there has been talk that there has been interest from some Wall Street firms. I think both the American Stock Exchange and the New York Stock Exchange have expressed some interest in doing some kind of corporate sponsorship type advertising. I think there's another factor in this too, Brooke. Most of this business takes place in New York. Those who would buy the time and those who sell it. And the people involved in this by and large were intimately involved in what happened. They may have lost loved ones. And somehow kind of mixing commerce in that makes some sort of a disconnect.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well Max, once again, thanks a lot.
MAX ROBINS: Always a pleasure to be here, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Max Robins writes The Robins Report for TV Guide. [MUSIC]
"The Sepia Love Song"
by Courtney Pine