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Monday, September 9, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Kay McFadden / Times staff columnist

9/11 TV coverage: Get ready for the deluge

This Wednesday, there's only one big news story on TV — we hope.

Beginning at dawn that day, the networks take command of Sept. 11 coverage, which will consist largely of the same thing: five to six hours' worth of live commemorative events at locations in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Penn., as well as throughout the world.

On ABC, CBS and NBC, the morning shows will be extended at both ends to take it all in. Ignore what you see in printed TV schedules drawn up weeks ago: rivalry now has pushed coverage to begin in some cases at early as 4 a.m. and continue as late as noon.

The network morning teams will be joined by Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and very large news crews. It's not unlike the mobilization that occurred nearly a year ago.

This time, though, there's not a lot of room to be different, though each network will try to bring its own personality to the narrative mix and ferret out Sept. 11 anniversary "exclusives." There will be the usual vying for marquee guests to tell Sept. 11 stories.

With any luck, none of this will overshadow the solemnity of actual live ceremonies and speeches. A certain sameness might actually be welcome.

For viewers here, the point of differentiation is more likely to occur at the local level, where Seattle stations are taking distinct approaches to coverage and varying degrees of deference to the networks.

Because Fox affiliates do not have a national broadcast news presence — Fox News Channel is a cable operation — KCPQ-TV will run all Sept. 11 content from 5 to 9 a.m. under the banner of its morning show and local anchors, Christine Chen and Tony Ventrella.

From 5 to 5:30 a.m., the station will carry news from New York Fox affiliate KPIX-TV. Starting at 5:30, KCPQ will switch to national reports from New York and Washington, D.C., but will cut in with numerous live local events, such as Seattle Center's dawn commemoration and the "Rolling Requiem" at Safeco Field.

The networks, including Fox, all plan Sept. 11-related programming throughout midmorning. Things get a bit vaguer toward late morning, when the time for President Bush's wreath-laying ceremony and informal speech has been subject to revision.

For most Seattle stations, though, the takeover point will be around noon. KCPQ will continue its local emphasis. KOMO, KING and KIRO, in addition to local stories, will have anchors and teams reporting from New York.

KOMO's Dan Lewis will be there filing "Northwest connection" stories beginning at 12:30 p.m., according to news director Jim Tellus. KING has sent Margaret Larson; KIRO has sent Kristy Lee; expect their reports at midday, subject to coverage of the president.

As always, it will be interesting to see how far stations are willing to stretch the local angle in the interest of justifying their expensive — and competitive — trips to New York.

Wednesday's 5 and 6:30 evening newscasts will be jostled or set aside by a combination of network schedules and the president's address from Ellis Island to the nation, slated for 6 p.m. our time.

KOMO and KIRO are expected to carry regular news, but interrupt for the address; KING already has ceded the hour-and-a-half from 5 to 6:30 to an NBC "Nightly News" presentation and will do local news at 6:30, time and president permitting.

While KOMO and KIRO take a breather in the early evening, KING will forge ahead with a one-hour 7 p.m. special, "The Making of A Hero."

This documentary centers on the young men and women who make up the first graduating class of Seattle firefighters since Sept. 11. Although punctuated by too many ponderous quotations about heroism, the recruits' boot-camp experience is interesting to witness. One wishes the interviewer had more time to explore the inner dreams and feelings of class members, especially post-Sept. 11.

As night descends, primetime will be dominated by network specials on ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC: concerts, town halls, news specials and the like.

At 10, KCPQ will expand its nightly news report to a full hour, highlighted by a series of field reports from anchor Leslie Miller, who happened to be in New York on Sept. 11 and last week traveled there again. The second half-hour will be an in-the-moment recap of Sept. 11 as it was experienced in New York, Washington and Seattle.

By 11 p.m., some semblance of normalcy will return as KING, KOMO and KIRO do their usual half-hour newscasts.

And at that point, you may hear news directors, producers, anchors, reporters and photographers here and across the land let out a collective sigh of relief.

"It's a very strange situation where you always have in the back of your mind that if somebody wants to celebrate the anniversary in a terrible way, you need to be prepared," said KOMO's Tellus. "I can't recall anything like it."

Audiences may be relieved for an entirely different reason. It's all a bit too much, this Sept. 11 coverage, and one can only yearn for a future when remembrances become something less than a circus of events and a media trample.

Kay McFadden: kmcfadden@seattletimes.com or 206-382-8888.

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