A Day to Remember – How the Networks Saw It

Thanks to dailymail.com MailOnline, where this piece first appeared

The world of television has never seen anything like it. And it is unlikely the four billion viewers watching worldwide ever will again.

What a spectacle. What pageantry. What a celebration of the longest serving and greatest monarch the world has ever seen. 

And, as cnn.com said, ‘the most closely watched TV event ever.’

As the Queen’s coffin, accompanied by crown, scepter and orb made its way to Westminster Abbey, the TV networks could not hide their awe not only of a great Queen but an extraordinary woman. A woman who, at a time in history when women were barely acknowledged, let alone risen to positions of authority or power, took on the crown with the promise of one thing – that she would do her duty.

That she did, as the extraordinary scenes in London bore witness. The Mall, where they stood 40 people deep. Hyde Park – not a blade of grass in sight. Buckingham Palace, and on to the final journey to St George’s Chapel in Windsor – no matter which channel you turned to, they were all in agreement about the magnificence before us and its significance on the world stage, past, present and future.

On cnn.com, Anderson Cooper was aghast: ‘Extraordinary… the history of what we’re looking at.’ ABC’s T. J. Holmes was similarly awestruck: ‘You can’t help but get wrapped up in the Monarchy… she represented a whole lot of history.’ NBC’s Wilfred Frost saw a woman who was ‘respected by all’, while Fox’s Royal expert Jonathan Sacerdoti said what we were witnessing was ‘mourning for the entire world.’

For once, all the networks were on the same side. 

For nbc.com, Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral was a symbol of ‘how this country has totally unified.’ Speaking about and from the UK, contributor Wilfred was keen to stress the collective experience. As a preamble before going live at 5.30am ET, he praised the Queen for having been ‘apolitical’ and ‘respected by all.’

Like nbc.com, abc.com were late joining the broadcasting party, with Fox News and CNN already on air at the crack of dawn. They, like NBC, went down the ‘We’re all in this together’ route and, as the day went on, you could sense, in the divisive world we currently live in, that we really were all in this as one.

Britt Clennett, live from Hyde Park for abc.com, declared that it was ‘a chance for families to get together.’ Children, in the arms of adults or by their sides, looked rapt in the vision before them. Just as my mother shared details about the Queen’s coronation with me (she married my dad in the same year), so these young people would remember this day.

ABC took the most personable approach, with commentators and contributors appearing on camera – something that rarely happened with the other three that relied largely on voiceovers. It was also encouraging that their strap read ‘Celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’ on a day that had more than its fair share of somber undertones – and overtones, come to that. It was inevitable, of course – it was a somber and serious occasion – but NBC’s coverage felt more inviting to the viewer. They even managed a nod to the Queen and fashion, saying that although she was apolitical, she used fashion ‘in a very diplomatic way.’ 

We also learned from abc.com that at 3pm ET yesterday, Big Ben was supposed to strike to herald the two-minute silence in which the UK would come to a standstill as a mark of respect. It failed to do so. They said it had been suggested that the clock, too, had gone silent as a mark of respect. They were overly fond of these ‘signs’ and informed us that there had been another rainbow in London, just as there had been on the day the Queen’s death was announced. So enamoured was ABC by another colorful sign, you almost expected Kermit the Frog to pipe up singing Rainbow Connection in the background.   

By 5.30am ET, when all networks were live, it really didn’t matter which station was your one of preference, as there was very little different to deliver visually. There were outstanding images, though, most notably of Catherine, Princess of Wales and future Queen, in a diamond and pearl choker once worn by the Queen. With every passing month, Catherine grows ever more beautiful and regal, and the impeccable behavior from adorable Prince Louis (his perfect hair and side parting always break my heart) and Princess Charlotte make this adorable pair such a credit to their fine parents.

Meghan Markle was also looking incredible, wiping away a genuine tear in what was clearly an emotional day for her, for so many reasons, given the conflict between Harry and his family. 

How wonderful of the Queen to have asked for the Canadian Mounties to lead the procession, an acknowledgement of her respect for the Commonwealth. And what of our military, performing an operation that has been planned for decades and carrying it out with sublime precision. 

I lost it when the congregation at the Abbey sang God Save the King – never having heard that in my lifetime. I remember Charles’s Investiture as Prince of Wales in 1969 (I was 10) and my mother coming over all tearful at his blushing cheeks as he knelt before his mother at Caernarvon Castle in Wales. I felt for all four of the Queen’s children who, first and foremost, have lost their beloved mother. 

As the cortege made its way down the Mall, the flowers – mainly roses – being thrown were a reminder of the funeral of Princess Diana in 1997. Of the million plus people who attended London today, it was important to each and every one of them that they played their part. Even the Queen’s beloved corgis, Muick and Sandy and her horse, Emma, who were seen waiting by the cortege.

There were questions, too, though. Why were President Joe Biden and his wife Jill seated seven rows back, behind even the King of Poland? Well, come on, there were a lot of hours to fill during the trips between buildings.

With little different to deliver visually, the airwaves became a linguistic battlefield for attention. They had no choice. Everyone had the same pictures and the same camera angles. What else was there to do but talk their way over the competition and just try to come up with something different from everyone else.

CNN wins the prize for informing us that the beautiful weather in London that had made the day so special was ‘bucolic’ – I had to look it up, sure that it was something to do with the plague.

CNN also promised us that there would not be ‘a long, boring service’, as per the Queen’s wishes; foxnews.com stressed the same, with the added incentive, should we be tempted to go back to bed, that it would be ‘short’ and ‘vibrant’. 

Fox’s Jonathan Sacerdot, while celebrating the mass experience, bizarrely said that it was also ‘a good day for a criminal outside of London.’ He was referring to the huge police presence in the capital, so let’s hope petty thieves elsewhere didn’t take this as a heads up.

Fox went big on the Queen’s faith and her duty to ‘her children and her God.’ Yes, there were a lot of God checks all day, apart from on CNN, where, as on the day the Queen died, they went big on historical significance.

Tradition and honor were at the forefront of CNN’s commentary and analysis. Kate Williams acknowledged ‘the pageantry and the symbolism… a weighty historical moment… the biggest moment as a historian I will ever see.’

The network is blessed with anchor and Royal Correspondent Max Foster, to whom anchor Anderson Cooper defers when there are aspects of British tradition and history with which he is unfamiliar. However, there were several moments when silence would have been more golden than the incessant commentary. At one moment, when Max started to wax lyrical about the flowers on the coffin – rosemary, myrtle and… Anderson wanted to cut to the bagpipes, and Max was silenced. Maybe Anderson gagged him. 

But Max wasn’t going to let his horticulture knowledge be stifled. ‘What happens next?’ asked Anderson, when the service at Westminster Abbey came to an end. Max was right back on the subject of those flowers like a hungry, pollen-seeking bee. 

The same happened later in the day when the coffin arrived at St George’s Chapel in Windsor. You could almost hear Anderson silently saying, ‘Shut it, mate!’

Where Fox was over-melodramatic, and the first network to say the word ‘unprecedented’ – someone has to do it – along with other cliches, CNN was its usual considered, calm, analytical self. Anderson remembered William and Harry walking behind their mother Diana’s coffin in 1997 and has seemed genuinely moved these past few days. He lost his own mother just three years ago. His son Wyatt is a little over two, and there has been a sense throughout all his reporting that Anderson is coming at this huge story not just as a professional broadcaster but as a son and father, too. 

Even though there was little any of the networks could do to make the visual event any different from what it was, they each made it a time for reflection, mourning, celebration and remembrance. All four did a fine job in relaying the spirit of what the Queen had specifically requested in her final wishes. Irrespective of one’s views about the monarchy, we were witnessing an aspect of history. As ABC’s Robert Jobson said, ‘We’re never going to see this again.’ 

When the national anthem struck up with God Save the King at the end of the service in the Abbey, it was an extraordinary moment and a moving acknowledgement that life goes on. ‘King Charles will be pleased that the first ten days have gone well,’ said NBC’s Wilfred.

He will. Just the rest of the reign to go now. 

God Save the King.