As the countdown quickened here for the Royal Wedding, it began to be painfully obvious how many more media people there were converging on the scene than there are members of the British nobility -- a shortage that prompted one network to go so far as to interview professional "royal look-alikes." Parts of London, particularly along the glittery trail from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey and back, began to look like a temporary colony of the new world empire: American television.
From their scattered headquarters in London hotels and office buildings, the satraps of this empire -- morning anchor people like Jane Pauley and Bryant Gumbel for NBC; Maria Shriver and Forrest Sawyer for CBS; Joan Lunden and Steve Bell for ABC -- surveyed their targets and looked for angles of attack. Another day, another story: terrorists yesterday, royals tomorrow and let's hope we don't find them together.
Competition for colorful, royal and historic buildings to serve as backdrops for the anchor people's remarks was brisk.
When the dust settled, CBS had a part of Buckingham Palace for Shriver, who flew into London fresh from another royal wedding: her cousin Caroline Kennedy's. ABC settled for Windsor Castle, which may not be as well known as Buckingham Palace but is a lot older. This gave Lunden a chance to rhapsodize about foundations "built by William the Conqueror in 1070."
And NBC stationed Pauley at the Canada Gate in front of Buckingham Palace for what will be her last assignment before she goes on maternity leave.
"I remember the last royal wedding five years ago," she said, "and looking at the plans for this one, I think Buckingham Palace will be the center for most of the activity through the day. It's where the wedding procession begins and ends, and we can expect to see lots of hugging and kissing."
(Pauley's husband, cartoonist Garry Trudeau, is sending one of his "Doonesbury" characters, Zonker Harris, to the wedding with the rank of viscount, but Zonker was not expected to be available for television interviews.)
NBC, in the middle of this scramble for turf, also rose above it briefly by securing the Goodyear dirigible on Monday as a mobile pedestal for one of its nine cameras. As the wedding time approached, there seemed some possibility that NBC would have a monopoly of aerial coverage.
"I haven't seen any other blimps around," a network spokesman said, "and I haven't seen any helicopters."
But for the wedding itself, the blimp (the only civilian object allowed in airspace near the wedding) is being preempted by the BBC, which will feed to the American networks. Even in this invaded and occupied kingdom, a few strongholds are still sacred and inviolate; Americans may have taken the streets of London and occupied key points in the provinces, but Britannia rules the air over London and only British television cameras will invade the sacred precincts of Westminster Abbey.
Selected print reporters (who take up less space and cause less brouhaha) are being allowed inside the abbey at a ticket price of $138 for writers, more for photographers. But foreign television people are banished to studios across the street.
A ceremony that spans Londoners' lunch hours is being served up, at the same time as breakfast on the U.S. East Coast and in competition with the Late, Late Show on the Pacific Coast.
"I don't know how many people in L.A. are giving overnight royal wedding parties," an ABC spokesman said, "but you have to be a real royal wedding addict to watch the whole thing on the Pacific Coast. We go on the air with it at 2:30 a.m. in California and continue until 9. If that's not enough wedding coverage for you, we can't help you."
With that much time to fill, and a fairly short ceremony at the center of it all, the networks have sometimes been straining a bit for material. ABC's Barbara Walters was seen posing with Miss Piggy. NBC "Today" show weatherman Willard Scott, freed of his usual chores (in any case, it would be hard for him to discuss the English weather in terms suitable for a family audience), roamed the city, talking randomly with members of the crowd in Trafalgar Square and giving some expert wedding cake commentary using a scaled-down model to illustrate some of his observations.
Scott's wanderings brought him into contact with English types ranging from Morris dancers (who specialize in a medieval dance based on ancient British fertility rites) to punk rockers (whose music may also have had something to do with fertility rites).
In what he tried to pass off as a pure coincidence, Scott ran into a lot of people who said they had come out to celebrate "Steve Freeman's birthday," not the royal wedding. Freeman, an executive producer who is turning 40, seemed slightly dazed at the publicity being given to this fact and wondered whether his office would be crammed with birthday presents when he returns home.
"Years from now," he said, "people will think back to this time. They will say, 'Remember the royal wedding?' and then they will say, 'Oh, yeah, that happened at the same time as Steve Freeman's 40th birthday.' "
As if there weren't enough media types here already, American television people were busy drafting British notables to fill out their air time and add some glitter to the screen.
Some of the temporary television stars, including author Lady Antonia Fraser (special commentary for CBS) and Princess Diana's brother Viscount Althorp (for NBC), were stepping back and forth between their noble roles and their media shtick. Others, like musician Paul McCartney (scheduled for an NBC appearance) and actress Jane Seymour (special commentary for ABC), both members of England's untitled but powerful show biz nobility, simply did a quick shuffle from one entertainment medium to another. Unable to lure the real royals into its studios for interviews, ABC brought in professional look-alikes who did plausible imitations of Andy, Fergie, Princess Di and the queen.
And if they couldn't find news, some of the American reporters were ready to invent it. Hardly anyone here believed Joan Rivers, there for ABC, when she told about a late-night drinking bout with the queen: "Can she put that beer away! Philip was under the table two hours ahead of her." But most people who saw it seemed to enjoy it. The queen was unavailable for comment on this subject, as she has been lately on several others.
The media invasion swamped Sarah Ferguson's home village -- Dummer in Hampshire, where the native population numbers about 350. The locals were overwhelmed by a horde of Americans who stormed into town loaded with high-tech equipment, camped out on the grounds of the tiny village church and vicarage and brought a temporary wave of hectic prosperity to the nearest pub, the Queen's Inn, which did brisk business with a new drink called "Fergie's Fizz."
Meanwhile, the anchors did what anchors are supposed to do: kept the whole enterprise from drifting aimlessly away.
Pauley, expecting her third child next month, was mildly concerned about whether she might continue a family tradition, thereby establishing a television first. "It seems that my mother went into labor with my sister during a wedding," she said. "I'm not sure that would be such a good idea right now. Otherwise, the baby seems to like the idea of going to a wedding, she finds the room service excellent in London and she's very fond of English chocolate."
Whenever it arrives, the baby will definitely be a girl, Pauley says; no name has been selected, but "Fergie" has been absolutely ruled out. "Sarah" may not be a total impossibility as a name, but Pauley and Trudeau are not ready to make a firm commitment one way or the other. "Let's wait and see which side of the Atlantic she's born on," Pauley suggested.