CBS announced yesterday that it would broadcast a two-hour documentary special on March 10 culled from the videotape footage shot inside the World Trade Center by two young French filmmakers during the terrorist attack on Sept. 11.
The network said that it had acquired the rights to the video shot by the two brothers, Jules and Gedeon Naudet, and would transform it, with the help of producers and editors at CBS News, into a broadcast dedicated to commemorating the six-month anniversary of the attack. The tape has never been seen on television.
Leslie Moonves, the president of CBS Television, who made the deal for the network, called the footage ''just phenomenal material.'' The Naudets, who had been making a film about a firefighter recruit's early days on the job, were in a unique position to capture the events of that day from inside the trade center towers as firefighters struggled to contain the disaster. Jules Naudet was inside the north tower when the south tower collapsed.
Only a 10-second clip showing the first plane crashing into the north tower has previously been shown on television news broadcasts. A 90-minute version of the videotape was obtained by The New York Times, and a Jan. 12 front-page article detailed the gritty and horrifying scenes of firefighters and their commanders struggling to respond to the fires and the eventual collapse of the two buildings.
Some of the footage has also been shown to Fire Department officials and at some firehouses. About 90 firefighters who died that day have been identified on the tape, and the Naudets have made clips of those scenes available to their families.
Frank Gribbon, the spokesman for the Fire Department, praised the Naudets for ''the respectful way they have handled this.''
The Naudets, who are working closely with a firefighter friend, James Hanlon, insisted that the broadcast also serve a fund-raising purpose, and the CBS special will help promote the Uniformed Firefighters Association Scholarship Fund.
The Naudets will also direct part of the money that they are receiving for the film to the fund.
CBS acquired the tape through some unusual connections to Vanity Fair magazine, which is publishing an article about their experiences in the issue that comes out this week.
David Friend, a Vanity Fair editor who wrote the article, has been a friend of the Naudet family. He said yesterday that he contacted the brothers soon after the attack to interview them for an article after learning that they had been on the scene with videocameras.
Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair, then contacted Jim Wiatt of the William Morris talent agency as well as Mr. Moonves, both of whom are personal friends of his, to work out the arrangements for bringing the tape to television.
Mr. Wiatt called in another William Morris agent, Ben Silverman, to represent the Naudets and Mr. Hanlon directly. Mr. Wiatt said that all the William Morris fees on the CBS project would be donated to a fund designated by the Naudets.
Mr. Moonves did not disclose how much CBS had paid for the rights to the footage, but Mr. Silverman called it ''a minimal fee.'' CBS did, however, commit resources to complete the film, including the services of Susan Zirinsky, the executive producer of the CBS news magazine program ''48 Hours.'' She is leading the creative team on the project, though she said the Naudets remained in control of the film. Mr. Carter and Mr. Friend are also executive producers.
Despite Ms. Zirinsky's participation, CBS emphasized that the special was not a product of CBS News. ''Because of the fund-raising aspect, it does not fit under a news heading,'' Ms. Zirinsky said. Mr. Moonves said that it would not be an entertainment special either. ''We're not going to label it anything,'' he said.
The network will sell commercial time in the special, Mr. Moonves said, but ''we are looking for just two or three special sponsors.'' Mr. Carter said the deal mandated that commercials would run only at the beginning and end of the film, with one break in the middle.
Mr. Silverman predicted that the special would be one of the biggest events of the television season. ''I think 50 million will watch this,'' he said. He said that CBS had acquired two runs of the film, but that it would still be owned by the Naudets. He said that they might expand it later, and that it would be sold internationally next. Proceeds from that sale will also go to the scholarship fund.