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Saunders: A flood of Katrina specials

Published August 28, 2006 at midnight

Unless the nearly 10-year-old Boulder murder mystery is flooded with new information and accusations, Katrina, rather then JonBenet, could dominate national television this week.

With Tuesday marking the first anniversary of the horrific event, broadcasting and cable networks have scheduled numerous documentaries to complement the coverage planned within the framework of their normal news programs.

"Ordinarily, I'm not a fan of anniversary-type stories," NBC News President Steve Capus told the Hollywood Reporter.

"I think people in the news media tend to be more fixated on them than those in the real world.

"But in this case, there'll be a lot of interest in how the Gulf Coast region has done since then."

NBC, which along with CNN won a Peabody Award for its coverage, recently opened a full-time news bureau in New Orleans. The network will utilize the bureau for a variety of reports throughout the week.

Former Denver broadcaster Harry Smith will be a point man for coverage on CBS' Early Show, which will air live segments from New Orleans beginning Tuesday.

Smith, in the Gulf Coast area six times, was the first national morning show anchor in the region following the storm.

ABC, which began a series of special reports (Katrina: Where Things Stand) over the weekend, will feature Robin Roberts, a Mississippi native, and Diane Sawyer, broadcasting live from Roberts' home town, Pass Christian, during Good Morning America reports on Monday and Tuesday.

Fox News' Shepard Smith and CNN's Anderson Cooper, who both received accolades for their coverage, will return to the scene for updated stories.

Special programming highlights:

Katrina: The Long Road Back (7 p.m. today, NBC/9News): One half of this hour will be a commercial-free airing of the documentary, In His Own Words: Brian Williams on Hurricane Katrina, which originally aired on the Sundance Channel.

The other half will examine how New Orleans is responding to the destruction and provide Williams' update on what happened to some of the people he met in the Superdome.

Nightline (10:35 p.m. today, ABC/7News): Terry Moran, in New Orleans, anchors the first of two shows that chart the progress of reconstruction efforts in the hurricane's aftermath.

Katrina: Send in the Guard (6 p.m. Tuesday, History Channel): This hour-long special looks at the Gulf Coast tragedy through the eyes of National Guard troops, detailing the largest rescue effort in the Guard's 369-year history.

When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (7 p.m. Tuesday, HBO): The pay cable network repeats all four hours of Spike Lee's compelling look at the impact of the disaster in New Orleans, which aired in two segments last week.

Rebuilding New Orleans (7 p.m. Tuesday, Discovery Channel): New Orleans' first Mardi Gras celebration since Katrina is covered through the eyes of pageant officials and city planners.

Saving Jazz (7 p.m. Tuesday, Sundance Channel): This profile of 83-year-old photographer Herman Leonard documents how he was able to salvage his valuable portraits of jazz musicians, dating back to 1942, from New Orleans flood waters.

Rising From Ruin, Revisited (9 p.m. Tuesday, MSNBC): Lester Holt anchors this hour chronicling the lives of three New Orleans residents still trying to cope with the disaster.

BACK TO TERRORISTS: If the anniversary of Katrina doesn't appeal to you there's always documentaries about terrorism.

Cable's National Geographic Channel is airing a wide-ranging series of documentaries on the subject, including Triple Cross: Bin Laden's Spy in America (7 tonight), which recounts the activities of Ali Mohamed, a master spy and senior operative for al-Qaida who worked within the United States, but had terrorists tentacles around the globe.

Currently in U.S. custody, his whereabouts and legal status are closely guarded secrets, according to National Geographic Channel officials.

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO?: One of the many classic comedy scenes on Cheers occurred when George Wendt, aka Norm, would waddle into the famous Boston bar.

A bell would ring and cast members would yell "Norm!!!" as Norm moved to the bar.

Wendt, after starring in a couple of failed TV comedy series, returns to the spotlight Sept. 5, on an A&E comedy special, titled Guy Walks into a Bar . . . This time, Wendt, one of the showbiz world's nicer guys, portrays a bartender.

TODAY'S NOSTALGIA: On Aug. 28, 1963, NBC pre-empted daytime programming to provide live coverage of the Civil Rights march in Washington, D.C.

Dusty Saunders is the broadcasting critic. Saunders@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-954-5137

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