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Television networks gearing up for Diana funeral coverage

September 2, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ Princess Diana’s funeral Saturday will be broadcast live by the major television networks in the United States, with most starting coverage before dawn.

The somber ceremony at Westminster Abbey begins at 11 a.m. in London, which is 6 a.m. EDT. CNN and Fox News Channel will begin coverage at 4 a.m., with ABC starting at 5 a.m. CBS and NBC had not made final plans Tuesday.

NBC’s cable sister, MSNBC, plans to start at midnight and run Princess Diana coverage all night.

One television executive said ratings were ``exploding″ for Diana coverage, with viewership on the Labor Day weekend up by as much as 50 percent in some periods over the same times the previous weekend.

``The general awareness of her is pretty astonishing, both overseas and in this country,″ said Bob Murphy, ABC’s senior vice president for hard news. ``I can’t remember a foreign person whose death has had the impact hers has had.″

The networks are sending their top guns to anchor the coverage _ Bernard Shaw at CNN, Dan Rather at CBS, Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric at NBC and Peter Jennings, assisted by Barbara Walters, at ABC.

Among special Diana coverage planned:

- CBS will air a special ``48 Hours″ devoted to Diana on Wednesday night at 9 p.m., and wrap up funeral coverage with a Rather-anchored special Saturday at 8 p.m.

- ABC’s Diane Sawyer will moderate a special ``PrimeTime Live″ town meeting on paparazzi Wednesday at 10 p.m. And Walters will be host of a special ``20/20″ edition Friday devoted largely to Diana

- ``Dateline NBC″ will have a special Wednesday night edition that will lead with Diana.

Tuesday also saw the earlier-than-expected debut of Lisa McCree, who starts next week as Joan Lunden’s replacement on ABC’s ``Good Morning America.″ McCree delivered two reports from London on Diana.

ABC, CBS and NBC all ran Diana specials Sunday at 7 p.m., and preliminary Nielsen Media Research ratings in 38 cities showed the audience was 18 percent higher for those three networks during the same time period the previous week. For ABC, the audience was more than doubled.

CNN’s ratings just before midnight Saturday, when Diana’s death was announced, were as high as any basic cable rating this year, the network said.

Fox News Channel is doing a favor for the non-early risers on Saturday. When live funeral coverage ends, probably around 9 a.m., it will show a repeat of the ceremony, probably for about three hours.

``I think asking people to either set their VCRs or get up at four in the morning is straining colonial loyalties a little too much,″ said John Moody, vice president of news and editorial at Fox.

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