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 Media Decoder - Behind the Scenes, Between the Lines

August 29, 2010, 8:27 PM

View of a Hurricane, 5 Years On

The television ratings have been modest for many of the special programs pegged to the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans.  For instance, Rachel Maddow, on MSNBC at 9 p.m., and Anderson Cooper, on CNN at 10 p.m., prepared dedicated hours from New Orleans on Thursday. For their efforts, both anchors received their lowest ratings of the week, 610,000 viewers in Ms. Maddow’s case and 448,000 viewers in Mr. Cooper’s.

Regardless, an impressive slate of documentaries and reports filled TV screens throughout the week, coaxing the public to remember the disaster.

The highest-rated hour of special coverage was on NBC on Aug. 22, for an edition of “Dateline” titled “Hurricane Katrina: The First Five Days.”

The hour, which featured the anchor Brian Williams’s recollections of the disaster, averaged about 4.9 million viewers, the newsmagazine’s best performance among younger viewers since May.

On Wednesday, PBS showed the premiere of a critically acclaimed episode of “Frontline,” “Law & Disorder,” about shootings and a suspected cover-up by New Orleans police officers after the storm. National ratings for the episode were not available.

Other cable channels, from the Weather Channel to the National Geographic Channel, did linger on the anniversary. BET’s hourlong documentary about the rebuilding of the Ninth Ward, “Heart of the City,” drew 647,000 viewers on Aug. 22, Nielsen said.

Over two nights, Aug. 23 and 24, HBO had the premiere of Spike Lee’s “If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise,” a four-hour follow-up to “When the Levees Broke.”

The film averaged 477,000 viewers on the first night and 456,000 viewers on the second; that does not count the many repeats and on-demand viewings that HBO programs typically benefit from.

On Sunday, Mr. Williams of NBC moderated “Meet the Press” from New Orleans and interviewed President Obama there.

In an interview by phone with Mr. Williams concerning the show, it was evident that his memories of the catastrophe remained raw, partly expressing why it was important to note the anniversary with special reports.

“If we don’t stay angry at this,” Mr. Williams said, not finishing the sentence, as if there were no other option.

 
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