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Zimmerman Verdict Spurs Mixed Reactions From Broadcast Nets

CBS, NBC stick to brief special reports, while ABC uses '20/20' to bolster initial break

CBS, NBC and ABC all broke into regularly scheduled programming Saturday to deliver special news reports on the “not guiltyverdict in the closely watched George Zimmerman trial.

In a sign that the sensational court case played better in the never-ending cycle of cable news, however, CBS and NBC stayed on the air less than 15 minutes, while ABC broadcast news coverage until about 10:16 p.m. on the East Coast, and then threw to a broadcast of  “20/20” analyzing the decision.

In no case did any of the three networks bring out the “big guns,” as it were.  Brian Williams, Diane Sawyer and Scott Pelley did not appear on air. Instead, stalwarts like Lester Holt and David Muir held forth for NBC and ABC, respectively.

Fox’s New York flagship station WNYW left a baseball game between the New York Mets and the Pittsburgh Pirates untouched, although anchors on Fox News Channel made it clear the cabler’s coverage was being distributed via the Fox broadcast network in various regions.

CBS and NBC broke into “48 Hours” and an “American Girl” special just before the top of the hour on the East Coast, while ABC came in just at 10 p.m. seconds before the verdict was read.

The cable-news networks broke into other programs before the top of the hour and continued broadcasting from Sanford, Fla., the site of the trial for much longer.

The trial, centered on a  a 29-year-old one-time volunteer for a neighborhood watch in Sanford, had been charged with the shooting death of a teenager, Trayvon Martin, has been closely followed. The trial played upon a multitude of issues, including gun control and racial profiling, according to news executives.

There was some speculation among pundits that a decision in the trial could set off controversy, although Bob Longo, a news director at WESH, an Orlando NBC affiliate that has been following the case intensely, said in an interview Thursday that protesting at the courthouse had been minimal.

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