Media faces royal hangover

Celeb spectacle trumps hard news as media gloms on to wedding coverage

The royal wedding went off without a hitch, but from a media perspective, that wasn’t the real story. Like most modern spectacles, this one was less about the actual consummation than the foreplay.

The ceremony joining the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge took about an hour — or 12 minutes, if you exclude all the choral music. The giddy chaos surrounding it stoked fleeting fear that CNN’s Piers Morgan might spontaneously combust.

There’s no doubt the marriage of Prince William to “commoner” Catherine Middleton qualifies as news — the ultimate celebrity nuptials, whatever one might think of the British monarchy. Still, it’s a moment without much of a shelf life, and the missing guest during the weeks of media rehearsals prior to the big day was anything approaching a sense of proportionality.

In the 24-hour, TMZ-informed news age, there’s nothing truer than the adage anything worth doing is worth overdoing — and that was certainly the case as anchors and royals watchers enthused over every car in the long processional that preceded the exchanging of vows.

“How nerve-wracking is this for the designer of the wedding dress?” asked CBS’ Katie Couric, who kept referring to Will and Kate as a “modern” couple (it’s not clear what the alternative would represent), while presiding over coverage filled with crosstalk and muddled sound.

Other than the aerial shots of Westminster Abbey, the wedding was as much of a snooze as most. The main event was rather the wind-up to it, as commentators oohed and aahed over every car and funny hat. CNN’s Anderson Cooper seemed to strike the right tone of quizzical detachment, but he was clearly outnumbered — especially by the eager-to-please Morgan.

“This is just about as big as any occasion could get,” Morgan said, before adding — unnecessarily — “I’m sort of getting overexcited.”

The excess surrounding the ceremony should hardly come as a revelation. At a time when concerns about traffic have brought out the tabloid beast at what were once viewed as respectable news outlets, there’s scant distinction between Prince William and Charlie Sheen. Both are wealthy objects of curiosity; the main difference is that the former is ostensibly making do with just one goddess.

Perhaps appropriately, the wedding coverage kicked off Couric’s final chapter as anchor of the “CBS Evening News” — an experiment pointedly questioned when it began because the former “Today” host represented the “soft news” values associated with the morning programs.

Today, such criticism sounds almost quaint. In the intervening five years, soft-news values have permeated TV journalism, which explains why Couric had no shortage of front-line anchor company pressing their own broadcast signature into the wedding book.

While the timing was happenstance, all this breathless wedding coverage created an uncomfortable juxtaposition for the U.S. networks that’s difficult to ignore: primary anchors covering a story on another continent that has zero impact on the lives of most Americans, even as a series of devastating tornadoes ripped through the South.

As the wedding guests sang “God Save the Queen,” it was hard not to silently add the coda, “And the news business.”

Notably, Couric’s predecessor, Dan Rather, derided this week’s circus of “silliness” — including Donald Trump’s “birther” rant regarding President Obama’s eligibility to serve — on the Huffington Post, questioning “the millions of dollars, hundreds of staff and hours of coverage spent on a wedding in London when crises around the globe and here at home festered.”

But hey, in for a penny, in for a pound. And as NBC’s Ann Curry quoted someone in the crowd as saying — after listening to Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira gush over the mystery surrounding Middleton’s dress designer — in the midst of tough times, such a lark provides “a good distraction.”

A Las Vegas oddsmaker, by the way, placed the over-under line on the wedding’s global audience at 1.8 billion people, or more than a quarter of the world’s population. The New York Times (on its front page, no less) upped the ante to 3 billion, “give or take 500 million” — and that was Saturday, before any ratings were reported.

That’s a load of malarkey — such estimates invariably are — which didn’t stop the British press from placing the international figure at 2 billion. You know, give or take.

Then again, those guessing at the numbers are simply adopting an attitude similar to most media throughout this process — namely, why do anything to spoil a good fairy tale?

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