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TV coverage of William and Kate's royal wedding was reasonable and mostly gaffe-free; until ceremony ended



vows_1883571c.jpgLet the cynics and naysayers grouse about unrest in the Middle East and all the other stories which went briefly uncovered Friday morning as the world’s media focused on the wedding of British royalty, Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Turns out, the 8,000 journalists gathered to document the next generation of English royalty offered fairly reasonable, mostly gaffe-free performances, which communicated the majesty of the moment with a few necessary detours into gossip and fashion talk.

Until the ceremony ended.

Once the happy couple shared their public kiss – two of them, in fact, which Today show anchor Meredith Vieira unfortunately referred to as the “money shot” – the TV networks still covering the event descended into a morass of saccharine-sweet observations, inane interviews and space-gobbling fashion “analysis,” living down to some critics’ worst expectations.

Most TV outlets devoted to the event were into their continuous coverage efforts by 4 a.m. local time (one notable exception: CBS, which chose to air a re-broadcast of the 1981 wedding featuring Prince William’s parents, Prince Charles and Lady Diana. Made it look like they couldn’t get departing anchor Katie Couric to get out of bed soon enough to start with everyone else.)

royal-wedding-wide_1883763c.jpgCNN anchor Piers Morgan emerged as a early favorite, calling one arriving guest a notorious partier while noting another male dignitary – arriving with a beautiful woman in a low-cut dress – was smiling so much because he was lucky to get an invitation. That’s what happens when you hire a veteran of Britain’s notorious Fleet Street tabloid newspaper industry as your color commentator.

At times, the coverage unfolded a little like a battle between cheeky British analysts, with MSNBC anchor Martin Bashir on NBC and Newsweek/Daily Beast editor Tina Brown, who called the uninvited, scandal-plagued ex-Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson a “hopeless wreck,” on ABC.

CBS may have struggled the most, starting late from a perch which was so close to the bells at Westminster Abbey, anchor Couric and her guests had to speak loudly to be heard over the din. They also seemed to start talking sooner than many other TV outlets during the actual ceremony, adding extra chatter in moment when other channels let the hymns and the moment play out with little narration.

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The typical array of newschannels and networks were augmented this time around with some new coverage competitors: lifestyle cable channel TLC and celebrity-focused E! entertainment channel.

When Middleton clambered into her car, TLC slowed down the video for fashion analysts who dissected the images like the Zapruder film. On E!, rumors that Alexander McQueen designer Sarah Burton was in the area got levels of attention CNN usually reserves for Middle East coverage, while a countdown clock reminded us more than 2 million Twitter messages went out by the ceremony’s end.

I half expected Joan Rivers to pop up on the red carpet leading into the Abbey to ask Middleton, “WHO are you wearing?” (Burton, as it turns out; confirmed by press materials emailed impressively to media the second the bride appeared in public.)

But the high definition video of the actual wedding, provided by a common pool of cameras, was stately and breathtaking, capturing the majesty of the occasion with sweeping visuals. And as the ceremony unfolded, most broadcasters wisely stayed silent, allowing the simple program to speak for itself.

To be sure, there were some troubling media issues. If there were protests anywhere near the wedding – which cost something like $65 million, coming from the British people one way or another – no one showed them on TV.

And the glut of English commentators assured that the coverage was mostly a lovefest for the monarchy, with Morgan asking whether this wedding proved the royals were back. (My question: Back from what?)

Still, coverage of the wedding itself proved that even thousands of journalists can play nice and deliver quality coverage if the occasion is powerful enough.

Now all they have to do is learn to shut up once the action’s over.

[Last modified: Friday, April 29, 2011 11:20am]


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