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Sept. 11 Shows Examine Bomb-Proof Concrete, Tree Irrigation: TV

Paul McCartney in
Paul McCartney in "The Love We Make." The show airs Saturday, Sept. 10, on Showtime at 9 p.m. New York time. Source: Showtime via Bloomberg

Sept. 5 (Bloomberg) -- As thousands of gallons of New York City tap water cascade for the first time into the tower footprint pools at Ground Zero, architect Michael Arad is overcome with emotion.

“I’ve lost the words,” says Arad, who designed the 9/11 memorial at the former site of the World Trade Center.

The scene in PBS’s “Engineering Ground Zero” captures a rare moment: Nowhere else on TV this week will anyone be at a loss for words about 9/11.

Broadcast networks and cable channels will air more than 40 specials and documentaries before and during the 10th anniversary week.

Smithsonian Channel’s “9/11: Day That Changed the World” is a fine place to start. Tonight’s show is a thoughtful recapping of the day’s events as witnessed by an impressive array of insiders, from political leaders (Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Rudolph Giuliani) and military brass to intelligence officials and reporters. Only President George W. Bush is missing, having chosen the National Geographic Channel for his less-than-revelatory interview.

Immediately following “Day” is Smithsonian’s “9/11: Stories in Fragments,” an unexceptional documentary that contributes little to the by-now familiar 9/11 artifacts genre. The self-congratulatory tone might be less irksome heard through earphones, wandering the museum’s halls.

9/11 Children

NBC’s “Children of 9/11,” also airing tonight, catches up with 11 now-adults who lost parents that day. The special has a mood of somber uplift, but it’s the unvarnished anger and grief that lingers.

“For years and years and years, I thought he had survived,” says Madison Burnett, who was 5 when her father Tom died in the crash of United Flight 93. “Like he was somehow in Pennsylvania and on his way home.”

Tomorrow, PBS’s excellent “Top Secret America” will have viewers not only looking back, but over their shoulders.

This collaboration between “Frontline” producer Michael Kirk and Pulitzer-winning journalist Dana Priest reveals evidence of a massive, largely clandestine national security system that might be the most far-reaching, under-examined, legacy of 9/11.

‘Top Secret America’

While “Top Secret America” investigates covert U.S. actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, the more revelatory segments address the domestic multibillion-dollar, security network of government agencies and private contractors. The effectiveness of the surveillance work, the documentary suggests, is as uncertain as its methods and locations are shadowy.

On Wednesday, Nova’s fascinating “Engineering Ground Zero” studies the technical challenges in rebuilding the World Trade Center site. How to irrigate the 400 trees? What recipe for concrete is the most bomb-resistant? “Engineering Ground Zero” has the details, and builds them into something profound.

The best of the History Channel’s crowded lineup is Friday’s “9/11: The Days After.” Making powerful use of raw news footage and film shot by amateurs in the aftermath of the attacks, “Days” has an immediacy that all but makes the last 10 years vanish.

Showtime’s star-struck documentary “The Love We Make,” filmed in 16-mm black and white by the great documentarian Albert Maysles (along with Bradley Kaplan), chronicles Paul McCartney’s rehearsals for, and performance at, 2001’s benefit Concert for New York City.

McCartney Concert

Like the concert itself, “Love” (airing Saturday) has some decent moments, but McCartney has been at this game too long to let even Maysles get beneath his unrelentingly pleasant surface.

Still, McCartney solo is preferable to the film’s celebrity-studded second half, when “Love” goes backstage at Madison Square Garden.

“As I was saying to Jim,” says a name-dropping George Pataki to McCartney, as a maniacally grinning Mr. Carrey looks on.

Showtime redeems itself on the anniversary day with the poignant documentary “Rebirth,” which focuses on five people whose lives were forever altered by 9/11. Director James Whitaker has interviewed his subjects every year since the tragedy, providing a chronicle of perseverance in the face of devastation.

Also on Sept. 11, CBS will air “9/11: 10 Years Later,” an updated version of the remarkable 2002 documentary by James Hanlon and brothers Jules and Gedeon Naudet.

The Science Channel marks the anniversary day with a marathon of Discovery’s terrific six-hour documentary series “Rising: Rebuilding Ground Zero.” It’s everything you’d expect from executive producer Steven Spielberg: beautifully crafted, certainly bloated and genuinely moving.

(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Rick Warner in New York at rwarner1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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