By DAVID BAUDER, AP Television Writer
NEW YORK – After a season of earthquakes, tsunamis and political violence, television networks from ABC to E! are betting that many Americans will want to rise before dawn next week to bask in the splendor of the royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton.
Coverage generally begins at 4 a.m. EDT for the April 29 wedding, or 1 a.m. PDT on the West Coast, where the issue may be whether to stay up very, very late.
“Collectively people are eager for a bit of a break,” said Mark Lukasiewicz, NBC News executive in charge of planning coverage for that network and its cable offshoots. “It will be a chance to focus on something that has a little bit of fun and pageantry in the grand British style.”
“Nobody,” agreed ABC’s Barbara Walters, “does a wedding like the British.”
Cable television was in its infancy when William’s parents, Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, were married in 1981. The broadcast networks were the place to see that wedding, and they’ll be back this year. But viewers will have several other options, including bypassing television altogether by watching an online stream.
Lukasiewicz’s assignment for NBC Universal alone illustrates the variety.
On NBC, the “Today” show team will be in London for live coverage, joined by the network’s top anchor, Brian Williams. MSNBC will have its own team, led by Martin Bashir and Chris Jansing at first, then the “Morning Joe” cast. Cable sister E! Entertainment will show the ceremony live, led by Giuliana Rancic. Telemundo is covering the event for Spanish-speaking viewers. The MSNBC.com website is streaming the wedding live. NBC News is also producing a royal wedding app for the iPad, whose features include shortcuts to connect people following the wedding through social media.
Most of the stars of U.S. television news will be in London next week not only to cover the wedding itself but the advanced preparations. Their bet is that interest in the royal nuptials will approach that of Charles and Diana’s wedding.
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“The young people in my office are very excited,” said Walters, who was on hand for the 1981 wedding and will team with Diane Sawyer to lead ABC’s coverage next week. Walters said her head is already filling with royal trivia to use during the live broadcast.
She noted the contrast between the relationships: Diana, a virginal 20-year-old who barely knew her prince, compared with Kate, a 29-year-old who met her prince while they were in college together and had an off-and-on relationship with him ever since.
“It’s much more reflective of the times and it seems like there’s a much better chance of the marriage lasting,” she said.
U.S. interest in the wedding has been slow to catch fire, but BBC America has noticed improving ratings for its pre-wedding programming lately, said Perry Simon, general manager of channels for BBC Worldwide America. Americans don’t really start paying attention until it gets closer to the actual event, he said.
BBC America’s job, he said, has been to stoke that interest.
Simon was riding in a cab in London when word of the royal engagement came down. He immediately pulled out his smartphone to contact fellow executives; he wanted BBC America to “own” the story of the wedding on U.S. TV.
Rather than appeal specifically to a U.S. audience on the day of the wedding, BBC America will air a commercial-free simulcast of what the main BBC network is showing. Americans will be able to experience the wedding the way many British citizens will be — in their own living rooms. BBC One news anchor Huw Edwards will lead the BBC’s team.
“There is nobody better prepared and more appropriate to present the event in all of its grandeur,” Simon said.
Other networks offer a farewell of sorts, a coming out party and a chance to see an old friend.
Katie Couric, who is taking her “CBS Evening News” broadcast to London midweek, will anchor CBS’ wedding coverage starting at 4 a.m. on Friday. Not only is the morning hour familiar to many of her fans from the “Today” show, there’s a good chance it will be the last major news event where she is CBS’ lead anchor. Her CBS contract expires on June 4.
CNN’s wedding coverage will be anchored by Piers Morgan, Richard Quest, Anderson Cooper and Kiran Chetry. Morgan, a veteran Brit newsman with extensive contacts with the royal family, will have his most prominent role with the network since joining in January as Larry King’s replacement. CNN will also stream several camera angles of the festivities online and through tablet apps.
A familiar face has appeared from London lately on Fox News Channel: former ABC “Good Morning America” co-anchor Joan Lunden. A former colleague at ABC who is now at Fox suggested that Lunden come on to help with wedding coverage and she jumped at the chance. Lunden and David Hartman of “Good Morning America” were on duty at ABC for Charles and Diana’s wedding.
“I am having a ball,” Lunden said. “It’s been really enjoyable.”
She spent time earlier this month filing reports from London for Fox and is preparing stories that will air on the day of the wedding (Shepard Smith and Martha MacCallum will co-anchor Fox’s coverage). A previous speaking engagement will prevent Lunden from being on the scene next week.
The coverage has brought memories flooding back from 30 years ago. One in particular: During a commercial break, one of ABC’s royal experts was describing occupants in various carriages at the wedding, when he pointed out Camilla Parker Bowles, “who’s having an affair with Prince Charles.” Lunden was stunned; she had never heard of her, and they never talked about it on the air. Charles and Camilla are now married.
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Even the little-known ReelzChannel is providing its own live wedding coverage. Among the post-wedding commentators is Kathy Griffin, who will pop up on the TV Guide Network.
Networks are also providing options for people in the U.S. who aren’t awake for a ceremony that will reach a climax around the time many alarm clocks are going off in the East. BBC America, for example, will immediately repeat its coverage — twice — as soon as it is over.
Walters will anchor a two-hour prime-time “20/20″ on Friday recapping the wedding. At the same time — 9 p.m. EDT — Ann Curry will host a two-hour “instant documentary” about the wedding on “Dateline NBC.” Couric’s prime-time special on CBS will be titled “The Royal Wedding: Modern Majesty.” Fox News will also present prime-time highlights, along with CNN, through London-set shows by Morgan and Cooper.
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