It was wall-to-wall Pope coverage midday Wednesday, as the Big Four and cable news nets broke into regularly scheduled daytime programming once white smoke was spotted billowing out of the Vatican’s chimney.
News anchors and journos from across the globe had descended upon Rome starting late last week, with each net and pub boasting their own panel of religious figures and experts to offer insight and predictions as to who would be tapped to lead the Catholic Church after Pope Benedict XVI stepped down. NBC News had even offered computer animations of the secretive cardinal voting process, strangely resembling the net’s Dateline graphics used to complement true crime coverage.
Once white smoke was spotted, Peacock along with others postulated that the new Pope would hail from North America, and possibly even the U.S., since frontrunners included cardinals from Gotham and Beantown.
Twitter was set ablaze during the time between the white smoke and official Pope announcement, as second-screeners passed the limbo period with a constant one-uppage of Vatican-related quips.
Once the Vatican balcony doors swung open, however, many news outlets were thrown for a loop when Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was tapped for the role, a dark horse in the Vatican race.
“Who did they say?” Brian Williams asked his right-hand cardinal consultant. The announcing cardinal’s mic had, unmiraculously, cut out a bit upon the reveal.
As nets rushed to loop file video and prep Bergoglio images, one couldn’t help but see shades of the trade scurry months ago when Kevin Tsujihara was appointed CEO of Warner Bros. instead of frontrunner Bruce Rosenblum.
For those sourcing the massive Vatican crowd for civilian reaction, the race was on to find Latin American tourists to comment on the appointment, as Bergoglio — now named Pope Francis I — is the first Pope not only not from Europe, but the first South American to lead the Church.
Anderson Cooper managed to find two femmes from Mexico in the mass of onlookers who gushed about the appointment, but Spanish-language nets were positioned to make the most of the radical news.
“Momento Historico,” KRCA read as it cut into its normal broadcast. MundoFox offered coverage, and Univision offered a ticker tape of Spanish tweets below its commentary with hashtags like #nuevopapa. Telemundo consulted with its Spanish-speaking Catholic figures, a considerable news advantage compared to American news nets whose anchors shuffled through profile print-outs to decipher who exactly Bergoglio is.
As the crowds dissipated in Rome, the Big Four wound down their coverage while cable news nets like CNN, MSNBC and Fox News continued their commentary into the afternoon. Though most likely mere coincidence, the timing of the breaking news seemed like a godsend in terms of daytime TV scheduling — white smoke sighting began at 11am P.T., when most began offering their late ayem local news, and the historic affair wound down by 1 p.m., just in time for sudsers and yakkers.