Decoding Disaster

Decoding Disaster

(Discovery Times, 2006-'07) documentary series

Decoding Disaster title screen

This series got off to a rocky start when it examined "Nightclub Nightmares" in its first episode, dealing primarily with the February 20, 2003, West Warwick Station Nightclub fire in which 100 people died. The trouble stemmed from the use, without permission, of copyrighted footage shot by Channel 12 News at the nightclub as the fire began and patrons pushed for the exits. Especially in contention was disturbing footage of concertgoers piled in the front doorway. The show premiered February 26, 2006, prompting TVL Broadcasting, owner of Channel 12, to file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court.

Station Nightclub front steps, 2003
The front steps of the Station Nightclub. (February 25, 2003).

In a settlement reached in July of the same year, TVL agreed to license the video scenes used by Granada America, the production company behind Decoding Disaster, with the exception of one scene and the stipulation that the faces of fire victims be blurred.

About thirty-five minutes of the hour-long show are devoted to the Station tragedy. (The rest has to do with the E2 nightclub stampede in Chicago on February 17, 2003—the Channel 12 footage referenced above was, ironically, made for a news segment on nightclub safety in the wake of the E2 disaster.) In addition to the news footage, the episode includes survivor interviews, computer simulations, and physical recreations of the event with and without sprinklers. Visits to the nightclub site (then a vacant lot strewn with crosses, photographs, and mementos), and a memorial at St. Anne's Cemetery in Cranston round out the episode.

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