Lovely, lovely, lovely. Lovely, lovely, lovely, loverly.
"Lovely shot there," said Dan Rather as a picture of the balcony at Buckingham Palace popped onto the screen. "A lovely costume that the princess is wearing," said Tom Fenton of CBS News.
They all thought it was lovely and it was -- superb, warming, stunning television. Most of the credit for the visual splendor of yesterday's TV coverage of the marriage of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer goes to that stately landmark the BBC, which supplied all the networks with pictures that were sometimes breathtaking, sometimes merely grand.
ABC News supplemented the BBC pictures with aerial shots from England's commercial ITV network and probably had the most distinctive coverage of the three networks.Pompous Peter Jennings and lady-in-waiting Barbara Walters surrendered the mikes early in the moring to "Good Morning, America" host David Hartman, who was turned into a palatable and even engaging presence by the companionship of Robert Morely, by now -- after years of entertaining British Airways commercials -- as much an English icon as Westminster Abbey.
"The royal family have a habit of appearing to be talking to each other in public," Morley told Hartman, "but in fact, they're not saying anything." At one point he admonished Hartman, "Oh, don't be so silly," and later told him that royalty, that endangered species, was able to lend dignity "even to this program." When Hartman objected to that, Morely said, "I don't like dignity; please don't be offended. Popularity is enough for me. And you, I think."
All the networks had signed up supplementary expertise -- including the unctuous David Frost on CBS and the not-helpful Peter Ustinov on NBC -- but nothing could upstage the pictures obtained by BBC camera crews, who have raised electronic photography to a level of art the U.S. commercial networks and their union technicians have not approached.
The wedding ceremony itself included beautiful shots of the religious artwork in St. Paul's Cathedral, while massed choirs, brass and organ sang hymns. "Here is the stuff of which fairy tales are made," the archibishop of Canterbury said, not long after a dazzling, nearly celestial overhead shot from within the dome of St. Paul's. The camera, probably remote-controlled, pulled back farther and farther until the royal personages below were turned into tiny specks within A Great Eye, the eye of the world.
Shots did not have to be spectacular to be affecting. There was the prince, during the vows, wiping tearsj from his eyes. As the prince and princess left St. Paul's, Queen Elizabeth II was spied giving them one last maternal once-over, and later, was glimpsed under an arch at Buckingham Palace waving bossy directions to the privileged pedestrian traffic as the newlyweds prepared to embark in their carriages for Waterloo station.
Earlier, after the umpteenth appearance by the royal party on the balcony at the palace, the camera lingered long enough to catch one of the young pages, so entranced by the crowd's roar that he had to be pulled back into the palace by a member of the wedding party.
Even if one felt satiated by coverage of the wedding before the telecast began, something about this merger of 20th-century technology and age-old tradition was captivating and moving. Vagrant misgivings, even incredulity, at so much fuss and hoopla over something as quaint as royalty and efficiency, and the human poignance, of the festivities as television captured them.
Perhaps sensitive to past complaints about their over-eagerness as chatty Kathies and blabby Bobs, the network correspondents seemed to be taken with a new-found, though inadequate, sense of restraint. ABC's Jennings may be pompous on camera, but his understated narration of the ceremony itself was tactful and adroit.
Rather, whose attempts at getting emotionally carried away in the past have sometimes looked facile and fake, seemed genuine enough when he told viewers, as the royal couple's coach left St. Paul's, "Now, if I may be so bold -- if there's anyone in your household not watching a television set at the moment, back home in the United States, my gentle suggestion is that you get them. You won't see this many times in your lifetime. If ever."
Unfortunately, this followed a nasty gaffe during the ceremony. Celebrated soprano Kiri Te Kanawa was singing eloquently when Rather interrupted to say, redundantly, "From St. Paul's Cathedral, London, England," and then, "as the singing of Handel's aria continues, we're going to slip away for a pause for station identification."
What idiot called for that clumsy cutaway? To make matters worse, the first commercial shown during the break was an irritating spot for the Smith Barney investment firm, with John Houseman doing his tiresome stern coot routine and saying, "Being born with a silver spoon in one's mouth is not enough." There was also an ad for diamond anniversary rings and, later, for "Royal" copiers.
When Rather returned, he had the nerve to refer to the ceremony as "this fantastic musical spectacle," so fantastic that CBS rushed away from it to sell things.
NBC News seemed intent on being the snidest network. After airing excerpts from the BBC interview with the prince and Lady Diana Tuesday night, John Chancellor scoffed, "Correspondents tend to tiptoe through interviews with royalty in this country." (Did he think the occasion called for a billy club drubbing under a bare lightbulb?) This was not long after he had reported that there was more violence in Liverpool -- "but we don't know how serious it was." Maybe NBC News should have tried harder to find out.
On the morning of the wedding, NBC's Tom Brokaw wisecracked that the British were more adept at organizing weddings than at organizing their economy, and Chancellor grumped that the size of the crowds was "disappointing" -- surely only to him.
Jane Pauley, daffy and giddy and with a ponytail perched on her shoulder like a pet squirrel, took the cake for impolitic remarks, however, when she declared that the assassination of Lord Mountbatten by IRA terrorists in 1979 had been "a very costly public-relations blunder."
Over at CBS News, reporter Tom Fenton plunged into the crowd and, incredibly enough, demanded to know of some people why they didn't stay home and watch the ceremony on television, as if television were the real experience and the festivities themselves a replica.A British policeman, however, was particularly eloquent in dealing with one of Fenton's queries.
Fenton: "Sergeant, what kind of a crowd have we had here today?"
Some inanity was contributed by the guest commentators as well. After Rather opined that the princess was "certainly no Grace Kelly," Frost gushed in with, "But as in the movie 'High Society,' this occasion is also characterized by the phrase, 'true love.'" When the camera zoomed in during the ceremony for a close-up of Diana's engagement ring, Lady Antonia Fraser, another CBS hired hand, interrupted the music to say, "That's her engagement ring, of course."
And Bonnie Angelo of Time magazine's London bureau literally held onto her hat as she squealed to Hartman on ABC, "I would even use the word 'majestic' on this one."
Perhaps as long as there is television, commentators and reporters will keep trying to top the pictures with their own word portraits. Almost invariably, they fail. ABC had transmission problems all morning and when, just after 11:30, their own audio wnet dead in London, leaving only the BBC pictures and ambiant sound, the silencing of wagging tongues was refreshing. Naturally, viewers were not to be afforded such luxury for long, and the broadcast was quickly terminated at that point.
"I'm suffering from complete overload," said London journalist Tina Brown to Brokaw on NBC. "I think that we all are," Brokaw said. But it had been for the most part, pretty enchanting fairy-tale stuff. Lovely, lovely, loverly.