TV review: The networks’ royal wedding binge, worth every smarmy gush and gasp

April 29, 2011

At great logistical expense and with far too much fawning from American anchors and their hired British commentators, an array of television networks nevertheless delivered — even a curmudgeon must admit — some sublimely beautiful, patiently reverent and refreshingly witty coverage of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding Friday morning. And so a new fire now burns in the bridezillas of tomorrow, who paused the DVR to make a note to selves: Get trees for inside the church!

Yuck, right?

Oh, you.

If you skipped the whole thing on principle and neverminded the bollocks and all that, then you truly missed out. You missed everyone — even E!, even Piers Morgan — being totally quiet for an hour and just basking in it. If you’re one of those people who got up early to tweet your disgust and royal-wedding indifference all morning, I will remember you next year, when the office Internet server crashes because you’ve been live-streaming basketball games during March Madness.

Here is what the royal wedding could teach us, and, no, it’s not about Pippa’s poise and angelic boys choirs and loop-de-loop Philip Treacy fascinators: It’s about how we will never achieve true multimedia peace until we learn to respect one another’s definition of hype.

As it happened, there were justifiable reasons for so many networks to be there, sending vast armies of journalists, support staffs and technical crews to London to cover the royal wedding — arguably at the expense of covering more worthy and pressing news. NBC’s Brian Williams all but made this point clear when he arrived in London on Thursday and flew straight home to focus instead on the rising death toll from this week’s spate of killer tornadoes.

Going in, I, too, might have wondered whether the feed from the BBC’s wall-to-wall coverage couldn’t somehow suffice for all viewers worldwide. Indeed, if the Beeb was your choice Friday morning — via BBC America or PBS stations — then jolly good. As we’ve seen on al-Jazeera during the Arab spring revolts and on NHK during the Japan disasters, American viewers with good cable access can cut through all sorts of clutter and distraction by clicking on native coverage.

But while surfing the entire channel grid from 3 a.m. until well after 9 (once the newlyweds traded those two chaste smooches on the Buckingham Palace balcony — “The money shot,” proclaimed “Today’s” Meredith Vieira), I was surprised to find that each channel covering the wedding — from the broadcast networks’ morning shows to Fox News to MSNBC to E! and TLC — was making a valid case for its right to be there. Each represented a niche of viewer back home.

What, after all, was TLC, the American purveyor of “What Not to Wear” and “Say Yes to the Dress” supposed to do? Skip it? (Say no to the dress?)

As sleepy Americans watched Kate-now-Catherine emerge in her Sarah Burton-designed gown, CNN had Vera Wang give it an immediate forensic evaluation, with not only approving discernment but also a whiff of defeat. There is simply no calculating the market value of what Burton’s achievement will mean to the bridal-industrial complex, Wang acknowledged: “There’s nothing that could be bigger. That’s a tad aggravating to me.” On ABC, the dress had given “Project Runway’s” Tim Gunn an ecstatic case of tied-tongue, while Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer beamed like grandmothers.

And CNN, which has alienated loyal viewers with its chronic case of hyperactivity, was able to at last demonstrate a use for the fatuous Piers Morgan, whose explosive British pride left an impressively smarmy residue on the screen.

Over and over, Morgan presented what he apparently felt to be his boldly original thesis: The monarchy is back! “Again [we see] the resurgence of the monarchy,” he declared, “doing what they do best.”

Watching the couple kiss on the balcony, Morgan declared it “a great, big, juicy smacker!”

“No, it wasn’t!” shouted the women in the CNN studio (including British TV thingamajig Cat Deeley) joining the worldwide chant for a second kiss.

“Good on you, Wills!” Morgan said. After the second kiss, he gushed more: “If I was still the editor of a major British newspaper” — retina-straining TV critic eye roll here — “my headline tomorrow would be, ‘GET A ROOM!’ Those two can’t keep their eyes off each other.”

Though he was off-screen (because all attention was on the balcony and the crowds), you could almost sense CNN anchor Anderson Cooper resisting the urge to whip out his smartphone and start booking his flight to tornado-battered Dixie.

All morning, Coop was made to play the part of the American naif, a Yank who has never heard of a bacon buttie. My favorite part was when Cooper said, “We were told it would be hair down,” about the bride’s rumored ’do. “I don’t even know why I know that.”

From network to network, the day was filled with reminders that when it comes to gender expectations, for all the talk about Middleton’s smarts, confidence and post-Princess Diana maturity, society hasn’t moved a stone when it comes to gender norms, especially when it comes to weddings.

Except for one or two proudly gay on-air fashionistas, the male commentators and anchors on every channel made sure the audience was aware that real men don’t know (don’t care!) about hats and dresses. “It’s very exciting,” Morgan said, seconds before the bride came out of her hotel to reveal the world’s best-kept fashion secret. “And I don’t even care about dresses.” Assessing the dress, Wang apologized to Cooper and Morgan for getting too technical about the meaning of its cut and line. (It’s as if the coverage was being anchored by the most right-wing gender theorists on the planet — toddlers. That’s not for boys! That’s for girls!)

This is something to think about once the royal wedding fades away and is reduced to a bunch of picture plates for sale on eBay. This stuff sears itself into impressionable minds. How else do we wind up with “my special day” entitlement, a reality TV show called “Bridalplasty,” and $100,000 “destination” weddings envisioned by grown women who refer to themselves as “princess” and “Daddy’s girl”? Thus, television arranged itself Friday along strict Betty Crocker boundaries. (To say nothing of race, which no one did.)

With this sort of jaundiced grousing, it’s a bit weird that I found the most comfort in the bronze, bony arms of E!’s Giuliana Rancic. She was my refuge from the Beeb’s sobriety and Morgan’s over-exuberance.

Rancic seemed to discover a whole new purpose away from her noxious Hollywood habitat, bringing the breezy curiosity of an open-minded stranger in a strange land. Even with all that needless attention to insta-tallying the hashtags of the world’s royal wedding tweets, E!’s talkers demonstrated a calibrated mixture of dumb and smart; their approach, frankly, fit not only the occasion but the Webby times we live in. (I know — Giuliana Rancic! One wonders: Has she ever thought of taking Katie Couric’s job?)

It was pure luck that I landed on E!’s coverage just as the cameras caught the first glimpse of the stunningly handsome David and Victoria Beckham. Rancic and her British culture experts — Dermot O’Leary, who is sort of a British take on Ryan Seacrest, as well as TV reporter Angela Rippon and fashion writer Louise Roe — let out a collective, near-orgasmic gasp when they spotted the Beckhams, especially David. It was a gasp that would not be rivaled the rest of the day.

Even Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” found themselves, after four hours of this stuff, cooing like drugged doves while gazing at a replay of the bride and groom in their carriage. By then, they were just stretching time, woozy on words: “I think she elevates him, makes him look better,” Scarborough said. “They are perfect,” Brzezinski sighed.

Fluff at its finest. It was impossible to resist feeling, however briefly, a shared buoyancy and sense of hope. Yes, hope, from watching a lot of rich, mostly white people in funny hats shuffle into a very big church and then shuffle out.

But spring! Love! Horse-drawn carriages!

It did nothing for you? Nothing at all?

Hank Stuever has been The Post's TV critic since 2009. He joined the paper in 1999 as a writer for the Style section, where he has covered an array of popular (and unpopular) culture across the nation.
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