The Times Square area returned to normalcy Sunday following discovery of a crude car bomb that shut down several blocks of the theater district Saturday during a high-traffic period on a warm spring night and caught network news operations off-guard.
As the broadcast networks opted not to break into programming for live coverage of the incident, several Broadway productions were delayed after authorities blocked off an area that encompassed West 43rd Street and West 48th Street on the north and south ends and Sixth Avenue and Eighth Avenue on the eastern and western boundaries.
At least 15 Broadway productions were playing within the blocked-off zone. The smoking vehicle was parked directly in front of the Minskoff Theater, which houses the “The Lion King.” None of the shows were canceled, however. But in the confusion caused by the police evacuations, some theatergoers were prevented from getting to their shows.
Cable news broadcasters, including CNN and MSNBC, provided blanket coverage of the unfolding events. But among TV nets, confusion reigned during initial coverage of the incident.
“The cops were saying that it was a car fire for quite a while,” said a source familiar with the CBS newsroom.
Although the majors all ran stories throughout the evening, sources said several factors kept news producers from immediately going live with coverage. Reporters on the NYPD beat were cautious, recalling a Dec. 30 incident during which authorities had closed several blocks and evacuated buildings around an abandoned 1992 Dodge van with a bogus police ID placard in the window. The van turned out to contain only old clothes.
Additionally, the White House Correspondents’ dinner in Washington had eaten into newsroom resources on Saturday, and the NYPD’s confirmation of an actual bomb did not come until 10:30 p.m., perilously close to the 11 p.m. news airtime.
“It didn’t make sense to go live until we had all the facts,” said one newsman.
After a street vendor alerted police to a parked SUV that was smoking, the area was shut down at about 6:30 p.m. and some nearby locations, including a part of the Marriott Marquis Hotel, were evacuated. In the SUV, police found the makings of a crude car bomb that failed to fully detonate.
Besides “The Lion King,” productions housed in theaters within the blocked-off area included “Billy Elliot,” “A Behanding in Spokane” “God of Carnage” and “American Idiot. ”
Delays and rerouted customer traffic were common at the Saturday evening shows, particularly within the cordoned-off zone.
“Lion King” began about 50 minutes after the Rialto’s usual 8 p.m. curtain time. Half-hour delays occurred at productions including “Come Fly Away,” “Next to Normal,” “Lend Me a Tenor,” “Red” and “Carnage.” “The Addams Family,” “Memphis” and “Billy Elliot” each started between 20 and 25 minutes late. All productions will honor exchange or refund requests for those who didn’t make it, according to the Broadway League, although no numbers were immediately available on how many patrons actually missed their curtains.
Some exiting audiences were steered through unusual routes to get them out of the area. At “Carnage,” ?housed at the Jacobs Theater on West 45th Street, theatergoers were led through the stage-door alley and through the adjacent Milford Plaza Hotel, from which they could exit onto Eighth Avenue.
At the nearby Golden Theater, audiences also were herded out through the Milford Plaza. At the Schoenfeld Theater on the same block, patrons at “Behanding” went out the back of the theater, exiting onto West 44 Street.
Times Square was completely re-opened by around 7:30 the following morning, with business resuming and all Sunday matinees expected to play as scheduled.
Most of the major news programs led with the story Sunday morning. By 9 a.m., ABC’s Jake Tapper had quotes from Sec. of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano on his blog, MSNBC had Napolitano on “Meet the Press,” and most nets had quotes and footage from mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s 2:19 a.m. press conference on morning news shows.
Many also had footage of the previous evening, including images of the NYPD’s bomb robot and the tow truck that hauled away the suspicious vehicle.
By early afternoon, FoxNews.com, among others, was reporting claims of responsibility by the Pakistani Taliban, and CNN reported that police had found the vehicle’s VIN identification number.