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_NOVA_: "Why the Towers Fell" (1 Viewer)

Jack Briggs

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The Public Broadcasting System consistently produces the finest programming on all of television. And, to this day, NOVA is consistently the finest science program ever to grace the tube.

So it is with sober confidence that I can recommend this evening's installment: "Why the Towers Fell," which, of course, is a serious examination of what is now known about the World Trade Center disaster.

Rest assured that because it is NOVA the program will be in-depth, probing, and non-sensationalistic.

Check your local listings, as this strikes me as don't-miss programming.
 

Michael*K

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May 24, 2001
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I agree, Jack. Nova broadcasts episodes of consistently high quality. Tonight's episode is a must-see. Here's a review of the show in today's Chicago Tribune by their architectural critic, Blair Kamin:

Riveting `Why Towers Fell' carries viewers into tragedy

By Blair Kamin

Tribune architecture critic

April 30, 2002

Even now, more than seven months after Sept. 11, the images are stunning.

A few blocks north of the World Trade Center, firemen look up as they hear the scream of a low-flying jet. An alert cameraman who happens to be at the firehouse follows the hijacked Boeing 767 as it slams into the Trade Center's north tower, where it erupts in a ball of smoke and fire.

Later that morning, after the other plane has struck, a TV reporter stands several hundred feet away from the burning skyscrapers. Suddenly, the camera lurches upward as the Trade Center's south tower comes crashing down. We hear the screams of bystanders and the deadly sound of one steel floor "pancaking" down on another.

These are among the searing sights and sounds of a riveting Nova show, "Why the Towers Fell," that will air at 10 p.m. Tuesday and repeat at 8 p.m. Thursday on WTTW-Ch. 11. Even if you've read newspaper or magazine stories about the collapse, this show is worth watching because it provides a "you are there" feeling that no print account can match.

It's as if a team of videographers had been in the freezing North Atlantic, witnessing the sinking of the Titanic.

The underlying strength of "Why the Towers Fell" is that it combines white-hot immediacy with a dispassionate tone, hard questions (did the engineers of the towers compromise safety to save money?), and lucid explanations of why the 110-story twin towers collapsed.

Add gripping human interest stories, like on-camera interviews with two of the six people who were trapped in a Trade Center elevator but escaped by using a squeegee's metal wiper blade (and their feet) to open a hole in the drywall that surrounded an elevator shaft, and you have a tale that is anything but an eye-glazing exercise in Engineering 101.

Let me quickly tack on this caveat: My take on the show is based on a 45-minute tape that excluded the program's last seven minutes. That chunk is to incorporate the final conclusions of the federal investigation into the collapse, which are to be officially made public Wednesday at a congressional hearing.

Produced by WGBH Boston, the show includes interviews with the team of engineers, led by Skokie's W. Gene Corley, that has conducted the investigation. But it also draws on a wealth of other material: videos of the stricken skyscrapers shot from news helicopters; animated graphics that show precisely where the hijacked jets struck the towers; plus a haunting interview with veteran engineer Leslie Robertson, who was just 34 years old when he led the team that devised the twin towers' radical structural design.

These elements are seamlessly combined in a tick-tock format that makes us feel as though we were present on that awful morning while offering an understanding of the collapse that only can come with time.

The show covers a lot of material that already has appeared in newspaper accounts, but it does break some new ground as a result of its access to the investigators: The twin towers, it demonstrates more clearly than previous accounts of the collapse, fell for different reasons.

In the north tower, where the plane smashed directly into the building's structural core, the core--its steel columns weakened by intense heat--appears to have given way first.

In the south tower, the jet sliced through the building on a diagonal and plowed into the skyscraper's northeast corner, where it started an intense fire that made exterior columns bend like folded cardboard.

Because this tragedy was marked by a great loss of life and not just a technical failure, it is appropriate that these findings are interwoven with stories that lend a vivid human dimension.

Particularly strong are the recollections of one of four people who were in offices above where the planes hit, but got out by finding a still-intact exit stair; and the accounts of a pair of firemen who also survived, even after one of the towers collapsed around them.

To be sure, there are weaknesses. The show fails to mention, for example, that the families of some firemen who died have charged that the inquiry was hampered by both a lack of funding and the decision of New York City officials to send mangled steel from the towers to be melted down in local scrap heaps. Indeed, the National Institute of Standards and Technology will unveil its plans at the hearing Wednesday for a more extensive follow-up study.

But those are quibbles. "Why the Towers Fell" is a harrowing, enlightening tale that gives us both a better feel--and a better grasp--of what happened on Sept. 11.
 

MickeS

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Three hours of PBS tonight, not very often that happens (Nova followed by "Frontier House")!

/Mike
 

CharlesD

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Is this the same program that ran on the Discovery channel a few weeks ago?
I think there was some sort of collaboration. The shows were different, but the computer graphics of the buildings and what happened to them were used on both shows.
 

RobertR

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Just finished watching it. Thanks so much for the heads up, Jack. Utterly riveting for any engineer (such as myself). The emotion in the face of Leslie Robertson, chief structural engineer on the WTC, said volumes. What agony for that man to have to see Ground Zero from his office.
 

Dave Miller

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May 9, 1999
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I think there was some sort of collaboration. The shows were different, but the computer graphics of the buildings and what happened to them were used on both shows.
I agree. I even thought some of Robertson's interview seemed to be the same as TDC special. Nevertheless, it was a fascinating show even for a non-engineer such as myself. I learned a lot.

Thanks Nova!

Peace,

DM
 

Ashley Seymour

Supporting Actor
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Jun 29, 2000
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Missed Nova again. And I saw the show on the destruction of the federal building in Oklahoma City. Maybe they will rerun on Thursday. I did see Frontier House.

The only problem with PBS is they don't seem to rerun Nova enough.
 

Jack Briggs

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Don't know the sitch up in Boise, Ashley, but here the program repeats on Saturdays. That, of course, is a KCET-Los Angeles policy.

I just saw the NOVA entry. Easily, the finest telecast I have seen to date about this international tragedy.

It is without question "don't-miss" television. Seriously. Watch it.
 

Brian Perry

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May 6, 1999
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For some reason, it didn't air in Chicago. I double-checked my Tivo and apparently it will be on tonight and repeated tomorrow. PBS aired Frontier House yesterday instead of Nova.
 

Michael*K

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May 24, 2001
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Brian, the show wasn't originally in this week's television listings. Because of the article in the Trib yesterday, I checked WTTW's website and it was listed. It was on at 10:00 p.m. last night and airs again tomorrow (Thursday) at 8:00 p.m.
 

mike martin

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Dec 27, 2001
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Inexplicably this was not on here. We got a local show about gardening and then frontier house. The good thing is I discovered this increadible program about people living on a pretend frontier. Fascinating. But what a disapointment to not see the towers program.
 

Jason Borchers

Second Unit
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Jan 14, 2001
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It was on last night here in Sacramento. Great show! Apparently they've learned a lot more since the Discovery Channel show from a couple months ago.

I hope everyone who missed it eventually gets a chance to see it.
 

Allan Mack

Supporting Actor
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May 26, 2001
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614
I missed the last half-hour of this program (stupid VCR!) but I received the DVD just a couple of days ago from Amazon.

It's an excellent presentation and well worth watching. I like collecting well-made documentaries like this. I recommend it if you missed the original airing...

(For those who want to know, the extras include a letter from the producer and the FEMA report on the disaster. Also, the disc is non-anamorphic but is at least OAR.)
 

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