NEW YORK (AP) – Television networks planned extensive coverage this week of former President Ronald Reagan’s funerals and other ceremonies leading to his burial.

ABC, CBS and NBC each broke into regular progamming Monday to cover Reagan’s body being loaded into a hearse at a California funeral home for transport to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

An hour later, the networks came back on to show a brief ceremony at the library. Their top triumvirate – Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather – anchored the coverage.

“Few politicians have commanded the kind of respect and affection and have had the kind of sweeping influence on American politics as Ronald Reagan,” said NBC News President Neal Shapiro.

It’s rare for something to have such a galvanizing effect on the country, said Paul Slavin, ABC News senior vice president.

“It provides us with an opportunity to look back on his legacy and provides us with an opportunity to see how he is an influence on public policy now,” Slavin said.

The three networks will cover live the funeral procession to the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday evening and the state funeral that follows, along with the national funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral on Friday.

NBC will also cover ceremonies surrounding the casket’s arrival back in California on Friday night. The ABC and CBS plans for Friday night were unclear.

Except for the major events like the funerals, broadcasters are judging their plans on what, as CBS News senior vice president Marcy McGinnis said, “feels right.” At ABC, for example, major movements of the president’s casket are usually the determining factor on whether the network goes live, Slavin said.

CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC were providing more extensive coverage, as illustrated by Monday’s example.

Unlike the broadcasters, cable followed the hearse’s entire trip live, using cameras in helicopters. The pictures looked eerily like the car chases that networks so often cover from the highways of southern California.

The soundtrack to those pictures included various people talking about their Reagan memories, including comedian Rich Little recalling on Fox News Channel the night Reagan impersonated Truman Capote for him.

Often, the anchors’ voices were hushed and they spoke in somber tones.

Even without major public events, the news networks will be discussing Reagan. For example, former President Gerald Ford is booked on CNN’s “Larry King Live” on Tuesday, with former President George H.W. Bush on the show Wednesday.

CNN’s Lou Dobbs will examine the economic legacy of Reaganomics on his nightly business-oriented newscast.

, while Paula Zahn interviews a former Secret Service agent wounded in the 1981 assassination attempt on Reagan.

MSNBC’s Deborah Norville on Tuesday will focus on widow Nancy Reagan, bringing in friends like actor Mickey Rooney. The network also tracked down former President Clinton on a golf course in Chappaqua, N.Y. for comment on Monday.

Fox News Channel did not respond to a request for its coverage plans.

The coverage was also something of a time warp; Sam Donaldson, ABC’s former White House reporter now seldom seen on television, was back on the air. Frank Sesno, CNN’s former Washington bureau chief who left the network in 2001, was also back to help out.

In fact, Sesno’s voice was heard during some of the prepared packages that the network has run in the past few days – material that was recorded before he left his job.

With Reagan suffering a long, slow decline due to Alzheimer’s disease, most news organizations had plenty of time to prepare their coverage. Some of CBS’ pieces were at least eight years old, like a “60 Minutes” story on Reagan’s humor, McGinnis said.

AP-ES-06-07-04 1641EDT


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