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Networks Ride President Obama's Star Power

It was the Super Bowl of Inaugurations, replete with a lengthy pre-game show, introductions of famous old presidential players, television announcers who had trouble finding the superlatives to describe the amazing scene in Washington, D.C. and a post-game show that endlessly analyzed the day’s activities.

The major networks weren’t about to let the cable news networks own the story of Barack Obama’s inauguration as president and went wall-to-wall with it hours before the ceremony began. ABC and NBC also planned prime time specials tonight.

The amount of coverage said as much about President Obama’s star power as it did about the historic nature of his election as the first African-American president.

It was easier for the broadcast networks to go on all day because they could sell commercials at a time that they are all cost-cutting due to the national economical crisis.

The exhaustive coverage added to the unreal expectations for President Obama, which began with his inauguration speech shortly after he took the oath from U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.

The oath didn’t go smoothly, with CBS’ Katie Couric putting the blame on Justice Roberts, who stumbled first and caused President Obama to pause and allow the chief justice to get it right.

You can almost see CBS’ David Letterman instantly dusting off his Great Moments in Presidential Speeches segment that he supposedly retired when President Bush gave his last speech.

President Obama’s 18-minute speech was immediately dissected by network analysts, who weren’t gushing but weren’t overly critical, either.

“I was struck by how somber the speech was,” said ABC’s Cokie Roberts, before adding it was “beautifully delivered” by the president.

Jeff Greenfield of CBS said he thought the speech was “ a deliberate effort not to be flowery” because of the tough times we live in.

If viewers were looking for entertainment, they got it during the pre-game show from several celebrities including Steven Spielberg, Magic Johnson and Spike Lee.

In an interview with ABC, Johnson was asked if he would be willing to play basketball in the White House against the “Hoopster in Chief” if invited and if he would avoid throwing elbows and take it easy on the President.

“I could only take it easy on him if he’d take it easy on my taxes,” cracked Johnson.

NBC’s Tom Brokaw and just about every network anchor and analyst said they had never seen anything like this inauguration, with the pictures telling much of the story.

ABC also made Aretha Franklin's singing of "My Country 'Tis of Thee" into a music video, showing beautiful shots of America beyond Washington as she sang.

As sports announcers usually do after big moments, the anchors all stayed silent as President Obama was the last person introduced after the living former presidents and their loved ones had been given the honor.

“It is an extraordinary assembly and it represents so much about this country’s government,” said ABC's Charles Gibson.

About that time, I began to think it wouldn’t have been a bad idea if area schools had given students the day off to watch the Inauguration and been given an assignment to write about it. After all, many school districts are quick to cancel school if it snows a little or gets really cold. So why not give the day off to watch history?

Of course, the network news divisions are already dealing with suggestions that they are in the tank for the new president and Tuesday’s extremely positive coverage is bound to increase that criticism.

However, anyone who has followed American history knows how quickly the honeymoon can be over for presidents. In other words, if President Obama stumbles, the elbows that Magic Johnson may throw at him in a pickup game could be the least of his problems. 

What did you think of the coverage?

--  Alan Pergament 

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About Talkin' TV

Alan Pergament

Alan Pergament

Alan Pergament has continued to blog about television topics since retiring in 2010 as The News' television writer after 28 years on the beat. From local on-air personalities to ratings to the latest on network and cable programming, he keeps you informed.

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