While the United States was still reeling from the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it was the country’s comedians, musicians and movie stars, along with a symbolic sporting moment, who played an initial leading role. plan to help America collectively deal with its shock and grief.
Pop culture’s response to the attacks was all the more remarkable given that the entertainment world essentially came to a standstill within minutes of the fall of the Twin Towers. On TV, “even the cable channels that … had no news operations were either showing a news feed or some of them were just showing a card saying we said ‘We are temporarily suspending programming, ”says Bob. Thompson of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at the Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University. “Sporting events have been stopped. Awards have been postponed. Broadway was not doing shows. It was a complete stop for entertainment.”
But the late-night comedy world, in particular, began planning to return to the air almost immediately. “Obviously, late-night television has become the first responders to the entertainment industry, and it becomes really evident the week after 9/11,” says Thompson, noting that several late-night moments this week have become anchored in our collective memory.
From emotional late-night monologues to star-studded telethons and the inaugural Presidential World Series pitch, here are five indelible pop culture moments that helped Americans move forward after 9/11.
WATCH: To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, The HISTORY® Channel will air three documentary specials starting September 10. Watch a preview of the three specials now.
The return of late night television
At the height of his popularity, David Letterman was considered the dean of the late night. This has never been more evident than on September 17, 2001, less than a week after the attacks, when “The Late Show With David Letterman” returned to the airwaves of the Ed Sullivan Theater in Midtown Manhattan with a somber monologue by openness that addressed the emotions many viewers were probably feeling: heartbreak, confusion, admiration for first responders, and solidarity with ordinary New Yorkers. “It’s terribly sad here in New York, we’ve lost 5,000 fellow New Yorkers and you can feel it, you can feel it, you can see it. It’s terribly sad, ”Letterman told the audience. “If you didn’t believe it before, you can absolutely believe it now: New York is the biggest city in the world,” he said.
As the first late night host to return to the airwaves, “Letterman returns and sets the standard for late night with a monologue that is still considered an extraordinary nine minutes of television,” says Thompson.
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A dark “Saturday night live”
“Live from New York … It’s Saturday Night” might be one of the most iconic lines in television history, and it was never more than September 29, 2001, when “Saturday Night Live” opened its 29th season. Avoiding the traditional open cold – which often parodies the biggest news of the week – the show instead asked New York native (and rock legend) Paul Simon to perform his 1969 song “The Boxer,” on demand. from SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels, who felt the song about a young man struggling to be successful in New York City “would capture the city’s strength and emotion.”
Simon was introduced by then New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who was flanked by the city’s police and fire department chiefs and uniformed members of both departments. After the song ended, Michaels grimly (and famously) asked Giuliani if ”can we be funny now?” Thompson remembers. “Giuliani said: ‘why start now? And everyone laughs.
While this line is the most famous, Thompson says what happened moments later is just as important. “When Rudy Giuliani says ‘Live from New York’ it had never been a more emotionally charged use of that opening line before,” he said.
READ MORE: 5 Ways 9/11 Changed America
A star-studded celebrity telethon
Images of firefighters and police officers covered in soot at Ground Zero has left many Americans, including several celebrities, wondering how they could help first responders. Executives from ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC also began planning “America: A Tribute To Heroes,” a celebrity telethon that would air simultaneously on all major networks to raise money for the Fund. September 11 telethon specially created by Centraide. 10 days after the attacks.
After Bruce Springsteen opened the program with his song “My City of Ruins”, which the singer described as “a prayer for our fallen brothers and sisters,” actor Tom Hanks addressed the audience by recalling that while the musicians and actors to see were not police or firefighters, they hoped to use their talents to help in the best possible way. “We are not the protectors of this great nation,” Hanks said. “We’re just artists, artists, here to cheer up – and hopefully a lot of money.”
The creation of the celebrity-filled program – the musical acts included Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Billy Joel, Jon Bon Jovi and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, while the presenters included Muhammad Ali, Will Smith and Cindy Crawford – in little more than ‘one week was an achievement the organizers feared they would not be able to pull through. So many artists wanted to participate that actor George Clooney came up with the idea of having them answer the phones to make commitments in the background throughout the event. But getting enough phone lines to support the event hardly happened. In his book After: How America Cope with the September 12 Era, reporter Steven Brill described how, with just five minutes to go, only Whoopi Goldberg’s phone was receiving calls. A panicked Clooney told the rest of the cast to pretend to answer the phone until the situation was resolved.
” To pretend ? How can I do that? “Asked actor Kurt Russell.” You are a [expletive] actor, ”Clooney replied. “Find out.” The phones were quickly fixed.
READ MORE: How September 11 became the deadliest day in history for U.S. firefighters
President Bush rejects World Series pitch
As President George W. Bush prepared to throw the first pitch before the third game of the 2001 World Series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the New York Yankees at Yankees Stadium, superstar Derek shortstop Jeter stopped the president to ask him a question: was he planning to throw from the mound or right in front of it? Jeter strongly suggested that he throw from the mound, noting that the crowd would boo if he didn’t.
Dressed in an FDNY jacket (with bulletproof gear underneath), Bush decided to take this advice and ended up throwing a strike at wide receiver Todd Greene, to cheers from the crowd. “I had never had such an adrenaline rush when I finally got to the mound,” Bush, who was invited by the Yankees to attend the series’ opener in New York, later told MLB.com. . saying to the crowd, ‘I am with you, the land is with you.’ “
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The concert for New York City
Rocker Paul McCartney was on the tarmac at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport when the World Trade Center collapsed; he was quickly removed from the plane while an air hostess briefed him on what was going on. The former Beatle, knowing his stay in New York had been extended indefinitely, began to wonder how he could use his star power to help the city as he began an impromptu stay at a Long Island hotel in proximity.
“While I was there [on Long Island] twiddling my thumbs, ”he said,“ I started to think, is there something we can do? he said to hollywood reporter in 2011. He started reaching out to old friends and compatriots like David Bowie, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Elton John and Billy Joel to plan what would become The Concert For New York City, a fundraiser that looked like him. Concert For Bangladesh by his former bandmate George Harrison, which took place 30 years earlier.
The show took place on October 20, 2001 inside Madison Square Garden in front of a crowd of firefighters, police, family members and survivors of the missing. While most bands chose solemn songs, one of the most memorable sets came when The Who performed – and Daltrey and Townshend led the crowd through the band’s hymns “Who Are You?” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, among their other hits. As the crowd roared in approval, Daltrey simply said, “We could never keep up with what you’ve done,” as a thank you.
WATCH: 9/11 Documentaries on HISTORY Vault