By EDWARD WYATT
It’s little wonder that ABC’s mini-series “The Path to 9/11” drew stinging criticism earlier this month for its invented scenes, fabricated dialogue and unsubstantiated accounts of how the Clinton and Bush administrations conducted themselves in the years encompassing the World Trade Center attacks of 1993 and 2001.
A more puzzling question is why ABC spent $30 million on what, since it lacked commercials, amounted to a five-hour public service announcement.
While the two-night docudrama was shown without a sponsor, ABC did not always intend it to be so. As recently as July, ABC was discussing the possibility of running the program with limited commercials from one or two major sponsors.
The network also saw a potential market in schools. It hired Scholastic Inc., the educational publisher, to create a study guide for high school teachers to go along with the mini-series, a move that implied the network saw a future in DVD sales of the mini-series to schools.
In the end, however, Scholastic scrapped its original study guide and no sponsors stepped up to help ABC defray the cost of the program. While the network did sell foreign rights to the show in a few markets, including Britain, Australia and New Zealand, it was left to shoulder nearly all of the cost by itself.
Once it became clear that it would have to go without sponsors, ABC began to promote the mini-series as a public service. That decision left the network open to a weighty question: Is it truly a public service if it alienates a significant part of the audience?