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Rome in Eye of Media as Pope Laid to Rest

Apr 11, 2005  •  Post A Comment

The funeral of Pope John Paul II marked the end of more than a week in which Vatican City was the global media capital.

After the elaborate funeral service, which attracted what was called the largest-ever gathering of leaders from around the globe, was carried live by U.S. television in the wee hours of Friday morning, the exodus of U.S.-based anchors and correspondents began.

Plans called for “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams-the only flagship newscast anchor representing the Big 3 broadcast networks-to head home. Same for Charlie Gibson, who had been in Rome all week for both ABC’s “Good Morning America” and “World News Tonight”; Fox News Channel’s Shepard Smith; MSNBC’s “Hardball” host Chris Matthews; and Harry Smith, who had been in Rome all week for “The Early Show” on CBS. “Today’s” Katie Couric was to relieve her co-host Matt Lauer from duty in St. Peter’s Square.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper, however, after presiding with chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour over seven-plus hours of funeral coverage, headed for Britain. There Mr. Anderson, the man of every CNN hour these days, was set to preside, along with CNN International’s Becky Anderson, over several hours of live coverage of the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, which was bumped to Saturday due to the papal funeral. And two-thirds of CNN’s delegation in Rome returned to their home bases.

Some of the phalanx of American TV news stars will return to Rome on April 18, the day the conclave of more than 100 cardinals begins deliberations over who will be elected the next pope. Mr. Matthews, who once was an altar boy in Philadelphia, is expected to return to cover the conclave. MSNBC daytime anchor and correspondent Chris Jansing was to come back to the States and then return to Rome this week.

Telemundo, which sent five reporters and an anchor to Rome to cover the death and funeral of the pope, plans to position three reporters and an anchor to cover the conclave.

“Latin America is overwhelmingly Catholic,” said Telemundo Network News Executive VP Joe Peyronnin, who will expand his papal team and coverage if a Hispanic pope is elected.

However, the confluence of John Paul II’s funeral, the royal wedding and Murphy’s Law made it difficult for networks to draw detailed plans last week about who would resurface in Rome. During this week of relative quiet, developments in Vatican City are expected to be covered by correspondents.

Keeping the watch for CBS News through at least midweek will be Rome-based Allen Pizzey and London-based Richard Roth. London-based Mark Phillips is expected to cover the conclave, perhaps accompanied by another correspondent or two.

By then the story will have evolved to one about the election of the church’s next leader, who must succeed a world-traveled religious icon so charismatic that his death on April 2 provoked the largest-ever pilgrimage to St. Peter’s Square.

For days pilgrims by the hundreds of thousands flocked to Vatican City. However, the interest of TV audiences in America for wall-to-wall coverage peaked Saturday, judging by data from Nielsen Media Research for the cable news networks, which provided intense coverage from Rome from Friday, April 1, during the news vigil on John Paul II’s final hours, through the night of Monday, April 4.

Throughout that period, Fox News Channel averaged 931,000 total viewers, CNN averaged 765,000 viewers and MSNBC averaged 347,000 viewers. Those compare with total-day averages of 1.065 million for Fox, 769,000 for CNN and 339,000 for MSNBC for the week of March 28-April 3, which included coverage of the death of Terri Schiavo in addition to coverage April 1-3 from Rome.

In prime time, from April 1 through April 5, Fox averaged 1.301 million viewers (down from 1.692 million viewers the week of March 28-April 3). CNN averaged 1.143 million (down from 1.183 million for the week ending April 3). MSNBC grew slightly to an average of 436,000 viewers from 415,000 March 28-April 3.

The pope died Saturday afternoon; from 2:55-4:05 p.m. (ET) that day, Fox averaged 2.549 million viewers. CNN averaged 2.248 million viewers, while MSNBC averaged 944,000 viewers.

Saturday night ABC broadcast an hour-long special about the pope that was seen by an average of nearly 4.1 million viewers.

A special NBC “Dateline” on Saturday attracted 4.4 million viewers.

Susan Zirinsky, the executive producer of “48 Hours Investigates,” produced an hour-long special that was available for CBS affiliates to air after NCAA coverage Saturday night or after “Face the Nation” Sunday morning. There was no information about how many local stations cleared the CBS News special.