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How Europe’s Broadcasters Reworked Schedules to React to Brussels Attacks

LONDON — European broadcasters have been scrambling to keep up with events in Brussels over the past two days. Variety looks at how they adapted to the fast-moving events, reworking schedules to make room for extended newscasts and special programming.

In the U.K. on Tuesday morning, public broadcaster BBC aired a three-hour-long special news report on the attacks on its flagship channel, BBC One, starting at 9.15 a.m. Both the BBC and its main free-TV commercial rival ITV extended the running time of their main newscasts at 10 o’clock that evening to incorporate coverage from Brussels, and the shows were anchored from the city. Pay TV service Sky aired a special show on the attacks on its Sky News channel Tuesday evening.

The BBC’s Wednesday edition of investigative news show “Panorama,” titled “Inside Europe’s Terror Attacks,” was devoted to the ISIS terrorism network in Europe; the show has been months in the making. ITV’s own investigative show, “Tonight,” plans to look at the Brussels attacks on Thursday in a program titled “Tonight: Europe Under Attack.”

Meanwhile, Sky has pushed back the launch of season two of crime drama “The Tunnel” by a week to April 12. It pulled the show out of respect to the Brussels victims as the first episode features a terrorist attack on an airliner.

In Italy, the attacks prompted a complete makeover in programming schedules of generalist broadcasters Rai and Mediaset on Tuesday. Public broadcaster Rai’s flagship station Rai 1 extended its morning talkshow “Uno Mattina” throughout the morning with live news links. Rai 1 then cancelled its evening “Affari Tuoi” gameshow — the local version of “Deal or No Deal” — to run Italian series “Baciato dal Sole,” about a rigged fictional TV talent show, in an earlier slot and make space for a special edition of its “Porta a Porta” prime-time talk show, entirely dedicated to the terrorist killings.

Mediaset similarly totally reprogrammed its regular schedule. Its flagship station Canale 5, for example, scrapped its “Grand Hotel” variety show and replaced it with a special titled “Massacre in Brussels, Attack on Europe.”

Sky, which is Italy’s main pay TV operator, reacted by making its round-the-clock Sky TG24 pay news operation also available on its free-to-air channel Tv8, so that nonsubscribers could benefit from their news-gathering efforts.

German public broadcaster ARD devoted much of its programming to the Brussels attacks on Tuesday, beginning in the early afternoon with its special “Tagesschau Extra” news show, which interrupted regularly scheduled daytime programming. News coverage and special reports also dominated in the late afternoon and prime-time slots, with a special “Brennpunkt: Terror in Brüssel” news report airing at 8.15 p.m. ARD’s nightly political talk show “Hart aber fair” also dedicated Tuesday’s program to Brussels at 10.45 p.m.

Fellow public broadcaster ZDF also changed its scheduled programming to report on the events, with special news reports in the late afternoon. “ZDF spezial — Terror in Brüssel” interrupted regularly scheduled programming at 7.20 p.m. and again at 8.35 p.m. Prime-time news coverage, including an extended “Heute-Journal” news report and political news magazine show “Frontal 21,” also focused on the Brussels attacks.

In Spain, both public broadcaster channel TVE and Mediaset’s Telecinco, Spain highest-rating commercial channel, interrupted their usual programming to carry a statement from the Popular Party’s Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s interim prime minister, in which he condemned the terrorist outrage. Pubcaster channel TVE aired a special report on the Brussels attacks.

But the most dramatic instance of just how deep the Brussels attacks have driven into Spain’s TV conscience may have come Wednesday in “Deportes Cuatro,” Mediaset’s second-channel soccer-magazine, which counter-skeds lunchtime newscasts. The first 20 minutes were dedicated to stars of Spain’s national team offering condolences to the family of victims; a report on Belgium’s soccer friendly against Portugal next Tuesday being relocated from Belgium to Portugal; an interview with Giancarlo Abete, VP of UEFA, Europe’s main soccer org, raising the possibility that matches at the France’s 2016 European Championship in France might have to be played behind closed doors; and a security guide for fans planning to travel to France this summer. This on a program whose main aim seems to be to avoid reference to any world events beyond sports.

In France, the Brussels attacks have been getting intense coverage from local media for various reasons: Belgium’s proximity to France, not only geographically but also culturally and linguistically; as well as the fact that the suspects in the Brussels attacks also reportedly played a key role in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, which killed 130 people.

TF1, France’s leading commercial network, disrupted its programming to air a special news edition at 11.50 a.m. to report on the latest developments of the Brussels’ attacks’ investigation. And another newscast at 1 p.m. focused on the post-attack situation in Belgium.

French audiences have turned up in huge numbers to follow the investigation. Last night’s prime-time newscast garnered the best score earned by TF1 since late November after the Paris attacks.

News channels iTele and BFMTV, meanwhile, have naturally been giving wall-to-wall coverage of the attacks’ aftermath, with several reporters on the ground and counter-terrorism experts commenting on air. TV reporters seem to be more cautious in revealing intelligence that could serve terrorists and giving out unverified information, after being criticized for their handling of the Charlie Hebdo attacks and to a lesser extent the Nov. 13 attacks.

France Televisions also focused on the Brussels attacks, especially France 2, which aired four special news flashes throughout the day, and two dedicated newscast editions.

Leo Barraclough in London, Nick Vivarelli in Rome, Ed Meza in Berlin, John Hopewell in Madrid, and Elsa Keslassy in Paris contributed to this report.

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