April 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the fateful and infamous maiden voyage of Titanic, which hit an iceberg late in the evening of April 14, 1912, and eventually sank into the icy depths of the North Atlantic early the next morning. In the weeks leading up to the exact anniversary date, various TV networks will remember the tragedy with premiere and encore specials and movies. Many of the documentaries offer promises of “the final word” or “mystery solved” regarding exactly what happened to the great ship. Whether they actually will or not may be beside the point. It might be the very mystery of Titanic, as well as its gripping tale of human tragedy and hubris, that keeps people so fascinated in its story, to the point where a dramatization of it has become one of the highest-grossing films of all time (James Cameron’s 1997 Titanic, which returns to theaters April 4, in 3D, for its own 15th anniversary).
Here are some of the notable new and returning Titanic programs airing in the next few weeks. All times are Eastern. Programming is subject to change; check back for updates and additions, and look for your local listings here for further information.
Saving the Titanic — PBS, April 1 at 10pm; April 6 at 10:30pm; April 10 at 9pm; April 14 at 9pm (check local listings). This new historical drama tells the untold story of the self-sacrifice and bravery of Titanic’s engineers, stokers and firemen in the face of impending death. Based on eyewitness accounts, it’s the remarkable story of nine men from the engineering crew who fought courageously to hold back the power of the sea and keep the power systems running, even when they learned that all was lost.
The Real Story: Titanic (encore) — Smithsonian Channel, April 5 at 7pm; April 9 at 10am & 6pm; April 13 at 5pm; April 15 at 10pm. Experts navigate the tricky waters of reality and fiction as they compare the real-life events of the sinking of Titanic with those portrayed in James Cameron’s Oscar-winning 1997 film that dramatized the tragedy to massive box-office success.
Titanic’s Final Mystery — Smithsonian Channel, April 5 at 8pm & 11pm; April 6 at 9pm; April 7 at 6pm; April 8 at 3pm; April 11 at 9am; April 13 at 6pm; April 14 at 4pm; April 15 at 11am, 8pm & 11pm. In this two-hour special, author and historian Tim Maltin reopens the case of Titanic. Maltin has spent 20 years researching the tragedy and has uncovered evidence of a rare natural phenomenon that he believes will change our understanding of the disaster, positing that the ship was deceived by a mirage that led it to its fate.
Titanic: Ballard’s Secret Mission (encore) — National Geographic Channel, April 7 at 7pm. Robert Ballard reveals the details of how his search for Titanic became a cover story for a top-secret U.S. government assignment during the Cold War. Ballard was hired to use his advanced robotic sub to check on the status of two nuclear submarines, the USS Thresher and the USS Scorpion, that sank in the Atlantic in the 1960s. The Navy did not want the Soviets to know that they were looking for these subs, and the hunt for Titanic served as a perfect cover for increased U.S. ship presence in the area.
Titanic: The Final Word With James Cameron — National Geographic Channel, April 8 at 8pm & 11pm; April 9 at 8pm & 11pm; April 13 at 9pm & midnight; April 15 at 5pm; April 16 at 4pm; April 20 at 5pm. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic, Oscar-winning filmmaker and National Geographic explorer-in-residence James Cameron leads the ultimate cold-case investigation into the tragedy that claimed more than 1,500 lives. In this two-hour special, Cameron and the world’s leading Titanic experts gather to solve the lingering mysteries of why and how an “unsinkable” ship sank.
Save the Titanic With Bob Ballard — National Geographic Channel, April 9 at 10pm; April 13 at 8pm & 11pm; April 15 at 4pm & 7pm; April 16 at 6pm; April 20 at 4pm. One hundred years after Titanic met its tragic end in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic, it faces a new danger — its underwater resting place is threatened by an explosion of interest that attracts treasure hunters and tourists in custom submarines. Now, National Geographic explorer-in-residence Robert Ballard — the man who discovered Titanic in 1985 — is on a new quest to protect the ship’s massive underwater graveyard.
The Titanic With Len Goodman — PBS, April 10 at 8pm; April 13 at 10pm; April 14 at 8pm (check local listings). Len Goodman, best known as a judge on Dancing With the Stars, has his own connection to the legendary ship Titanic. Before he was a dancer, Goodman was a welder in East London for Harland and Woolf, the company that built Titanic in Belfast, Northern Ireland. To mark the centenary of the tragedy, Goodman takes viewers on an exploration of the ship’s 100-year legacy through the stories of the handpicked group of men who helped build Titanic and then died with it. He visits Southampton to find out why it was the city hardest hit by the disaster’s death toll, and explores the story of the ship’s band.
Titanic’s Achilles Heel (encore) — H2, April 12 at 8pm. In 2005, John Chatteron and Richie Kohler explored the shipwrecks of Titanic and her sister ship, Britannic, through a series of dives, forensic photos and eyewitness testimony, in an attempt to figure out what really happened.
Titanic’s Final Moments: Missing Pieces (encore) — H2, April 12 at 10pm. Chatteron and Kohler figure in this special, too, which explores how, on one dive to Titanic, they discovered two large, intact sections of the ship’s bottom hull in pristine condition, with the red bottom paint still on them. Preliminary indications indicated that these bottom sections may change our understanding of how the ship broke apart, and rewrite the story of Titanic‘s final moments.
Titanic — ABC, April 14 at 8pm; April 15 at 9pm. Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey) wrote this four-part miniseries that retells the story of the doomed voyage. It features both fictional and historical characters, with each hour following similar events from different points of view, culminating in a cliffhanger as the ship begins to founder, and building to a conclusion in the final hour that draws together all the stories. Parts 1, 2 and 3 air April 14; the concluding Part 4 airs April 15, on the 100th anniversary of the tragedy.
Nazi Titanic — H2, April 14 at 10pm. This documentary reveals one of the most bizarre and little-known stories of World War II. Inspired by his fascination with Titanic, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels made a documentary movie based on the sinking of the ship. This epic movie was so large in scale that the Nazis were forced to divert men, material and ships from their war effort in order to complete the film. Although this was the most epic movie the Nazis ever produced, the film did not receive the large premiere that Goebbels intended and only surfaced in Nazi-occupied Paris and 1950’s Hollywood. Nazi Titanic investigates the making of the film, as well as the fate of the German ship Cap Arcona, which was used as the double for Titanic in the film.
A Night to Remember — TCM, April 14 at 10pm. For decades, until it was overtaken by the spectacle of Cameron’s film, this 1958 drama was the definitive telling of the Titanic’s sinking. Shown from the perspective of the most senior deck officer to have survived, it features most of the famed stories of both heroism and cowardice that have endured over the years in a straightforward presentation of the facts as they were understood at the time, without any interwoven fictional narrative.
Rebuilding Titanic — National Geographic Channel, April 15 at 10am. This five-part series of one-hour specials, airing consecutively today, is all about how the famous ship was built, with a team of modern-day experts building iconic sections of the vessel, using methods of 100 years ago and exploring the industries and workers who contributed to it. Episodes in order include: “Raising the Bow”; “Forging the Anchor”; “Powering a Giant”; “Floating Palace”; and “Preparing for Disaster.”
Secrets of the Titanic (encore) — National Geographic Channel, April 15 at 3pm. This 1986 documentary follows one of the century’s most celebrated underwater expeditions as marine scientist and adventurer Robert Ballard searches for — and finds — Titanic.
Titanic at 100: Mystery Solved — History, April 15 at 8pm. As the 100th anniversary of Titanic’s sinking approaches, a team of scientists, engineers, archaeologists and imaging experts join forces to answer one of the most haunting questions surrounding the legendary disaster: Just how did the “unsinkable” ship break apart and plunge into the icy waters of the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912? This two-hour special documents the most recent mission, unveiling pieces of never-before-seen wreckage, and presenting the expedition’s unexpected findings, as well as definitive answers.
NOVA: “Why Ships Sink” — PBS, April 18 at 9pm (check local listings). This new episode investigates the safety of cruise ships, which just keep getting bigger. The recent tragedy of the Costa Concordia has raised new questions about their safety, and NOVA brings together marine engineering and safety experts to reconstruct the events that led up to famous cruise disasters, including the ill-fated Concordia, the Sea Diamond and the Oceanos. Are we really safe at sea, or are we on the brink of a 21st-century Titanic?
Titanic ship image: © UK History/Alamy
Titanic: The Final Word With James Cameron: Credit Stewart Volland/NGC
Titanic (miniseries): Credit Lawrence Cendrowicz/ITV/Lookout Point TV/ABC