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NEW YORK — The last wedding of a future King of England, in 1981, was a spectacle watched by more than 750 million people worldwide. For those who forgot to videotape it (including everyone under the age of 30), this time you’ve got options — maybe too many.
As Prince William and Catherine Middleton prepare to walk down the red-carpeted aisle of Westminster Abbey on April 29, all the major broadcast and cable networks are betting big with coverage — and hoping to rake in the advertising dollars that will come with large viewerships. Even niche players are fighting to make the wedding fit their programming. Take The Weather Channel — yes, The Weather Channel. It will start broadcasting from London on April 25, with additional reports on the “natural splendor of the royal couple’s new home, the North Wales island of Anglesey.” The quote, intended without humor, comes directly from a press release that was sent out earlier this week by parent NBC Universal, which details how the broadcaster’s channels plan to cover this wedding almost as extensively as the Olympics. (Hint for The Weather Channel: It usually rains in Wales. But then the British love to talk about nothing more than the weather.)
In total, more than a dozen network anchors and correspondents from NBC will be on the ground in London, with more than 20 hours of combined coverage planned on NBC News and MSNBC on the Big Day. The staggering effort includes Natalie Morales of “Today” beginning to report live from London a whole week before the wedding, on April 22. She’ll be joined by Meredith Vieira on April 25, and on the day before the wedding, Matt Lauer, Ann Curry and Al Roker will be on hand for full “Today” broadcasts from the British capital.
On the wedding day, coverage will start one hour before the wedding begins, at 4 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. The timing means the event is likely to be watched live in America by only two sets of people: shift workers who have just finished the 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. slot, or Anglophiles so devoted they wouldn’t miss a royal wedding even if they had to battle though a brigade of Beefeaters.
Recognizing the timing isn’t ideal for live viewing, “Dateline” will air an “instant documentary” later that day, and on Sunday a “special report” will take a closer look at Middleton. Brian Williams will begin anchoring “NBC Nightly News” a few days prior to the wedding and co-anchor the actual event in London.
MSNBC will have Martin Bashir contributing coverage beginning April 26, and he will be joined by Chris Jansing on the wedding day at 3 a.m. Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski and Willie Geist will lead MSNBC’s coverage beginning at 5 a.m., with Bashir and Chris Jansing contributing.
Exhausted yet? NBC isn’t, and even reality TV is hopping onto the royal wedding bandwagon. Bravo’s Andy Cohen will host “Watch What Happens Live: Royal Wedding Spectacular” with guests Countess LuAnn De Lesseps (because a countess is sort of royal, right?), from Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of New York,” and Cat Ommanney, from “The Real Housewives of D.C.” who is the ex-wife of a White House photographer.
And don’t forget E!, which is adding a little fashion cattiness to the mix. At 10 p.m., postwedding, the network will feature a one-hour “Fashion Police” episode hosted by Joan Rivers, Kelly Osbourne, Giuliana Rancic and George Kotsiopoulos. It gets worse over on the iVillage Web site, which will post an “exclusive interview” with the couple’s former landlady on the wedding day.
CNN’s coverage won’t be quite as intense, although Piers Morgan and Anderson Cooper will anchor their nightly programs from London in the days leading up to the event. (At least Morgan is British.) Along with Richard Quest, CNN International’s business correspondent, they will anchor live programming. Kiran Chetry will co-anchor “American Morning” from London from April 25 to 29.
At Fox, the effort is much more conservative, no pun intended, although all the big names will be there. Shepard Smith and Martha MacCallum will host programming in London on April 29 starting at 4 a.m. Greta Van Susteren and Gretchen Carlson are expected to be in London, although it’s unclear what their assignments will be. Additional reporters who will fly across the pond include Greg Palkot, Amy Kellogg and Jonathan Hunt.
“CBS Evening News” anchor Katie Couric, who is in negotiations about her future with the network, will have live coverage of the wedding from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m., and she’ll report the evening news from London from April 27 to 29. “The Early Show” co-anchor Erica Hill will report live from there from April 25 to 30. Millie Martini Bratten, editor in chief of Brides, is scheduled to appear on “CBS Sunday Morning” and blog for BBC America.
TV networks aren’t the only ones cashing in, though. The dailies worldwide are bound to go big, with The New York Post having the advantage of being the sister paper of The Times and The Sun in London as part of Rupert Murdoch’s global media empire. Then there are the celebrity weeklies. A royal wedding translates into big money at the newsstand, and no single title knows that better than People, since five of the weekly’s top ten best-selling covers of all time featured royals. It will publish a special issue the week after the wedding, which will be on newsstands for two weeks. The title will also put out a newsstand-only special issue, with all of the details and photos surrounding the couple’s courtship, engagement and wedding, on May 27, and will launch an iPad app based on the newsstand book “The Royals: Their Lives, Loves and Secrets,” which was updated in 2010 with a second printing. It will be on iTunes, beginning today, for $7.99.
Us Weekly is planning two special issues, called “bookazines.” The first was released on Friday and the second will be published right after the event. A spokesman said the London bureau will handle the bulk of the reporting, but some reporters from the U.S. will also fly out. American Media Inc. has just released two royal wedding special issues, edited by Star magazine and the National Enquirer.
As for the newsweeklies, Time will publish a special issue and Newsweek will put out a commemorative issue, on sale the Monday following the wedding. Tina Brown will be in London on behalf of Newsweek and The Daily Beast and pitch in as a special contributor for “Good Morning America.”
Vanity Fair contributor Nicky Haslam, one of London’s most social socials, will blog for the magazine’s Web site. But Harper’s Bazaar appears to be the lone fashion title that is actually sending an editor to London to cover the wedding firsthand. Executive fashion and beauty editor Avril Graham will blog her way through the day for harpersbazaar.com.