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Parade Mishap a Downer for NBC

Dec 5, 2005  •  Post A Comment

NBC has been re-examining the process of its Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade coverage in the wake of this year’s accident involving a balloon that injured two young spectators-an incident that wasn’t mentioned during the network’s live parade telecast.

While Macy’s and the city of New York have been re-examining procedures to see what measures might be needed to better safeguard spectators, NBC has been holding conversations about, among other things, whether everything possible was being done to protect the image of three of its biggest news stars-“Today’s” Katie Couric, Al Roker and Matt Lauer-who, as parade co-hosts, were reading light-hearted, scripted jokes about the M&M balloon, apparently unaware that it had been involved in the accident. The incident occurred in Times Square, several blocks north of NBC’s exclusive position at Herald Square.

Throughout last week NBC maintained that producers in the control truck did not know what had happened at Times Square, where the network had no camera crew, until after the broadcast ended at noon. They were only aware that the M&M balloon had been held up, the network said, a situation that was not in itself unusual.

Indeed, the parade producers have on file video of participating balloons ready to air in just such situations, which raises the question of whether companies participating in the parade are promised lengths of exposure .

A spokeswoman for Macy’s said the store makes no such promises and that the decision to assemble backup footage from previous parades is made by NBC.

A network insider said flatly that there is no product-placement-type deal on the part of the network.

A network spokeswoman was unable to say exactly why old video of balloons might be a good thing to have on hand for such a high-profile TV tradition as the Macy’s parade, an event that began in 1924 and has been carried on NBC since 1948.

There was no reply to a request for comment from Brad Lachman Productions, which produced the parade for NBC Entertainment. NBC News’ only stake in the parade broadcast is the participation of the “Today” talent. But Lachman Productions was repeatedly described by sources as reluctant to say anything on the air until it had been able to obtain essential information about what had happened.

Ms. Couric’s lone on-air mention that the M&M balloon video, shown less than 15 minutes before the live telecast concluded on NBC, was old was brief and pun-driven, as were the rejoinders by Mr. Lauer and Mr. Roker.

Anyone depending solely upon NBC (or Spanish-language Telemundo) for live parade coverage would not have been aware of how scary the scene was in Times Square.

That there was no mention of the accident led some to ask whether the lack of comment about the incident by the “Today” crew during the paradecast was an attempt to keep scary reality from intruding on a happy TV event.

A network source insisted that the parade producer had been unable to substantiate information about the balloon incident until after the broadcast signed off and that had Ms. Couric or Mr. Lauer known what was going on, “They would have insisted on reporting it.”

Newly named NBC News President Steve Capus declined to respond to questions about whether the incident might lead to new discussion about the potential dangers of loaning out NBC News talent on projects in which they do not have the usual NBC News safety nets.

But he did say, “Our people enjoy doing that broadcast. It is a parade that is fun and tends to unite the country.”

As for measures the network might take to guard against such situations in the future, a network spokesperson said: “We’re having the conversations. We’re taking a look at the process.”