The dramatic disclosures in the Rodney G. King civil rights case came just in time for TV's late-afternoon newscasts Friday. And the network-owned stations immediately built the drumbeat with lengthy and often repetitious reports.
KNBC Channel 4 and KABC Channel 7 went to the whip quickly, taking the essentially simple facts and milking them for emotional impact with high-pressure television.
The facts were that the jury would meet at 7 a.m. today, that an important announcement--perhaps of verdicts--was expected, and that the Los Angeles Police Department had already gone on tactical alert.
KNBC, which has slipped in the ratings and has brought in a new news director, pulled out the stops in hammering home the story at a high pitch. KCBS Channel 2, often criticized for its sensationalism, eased into the news less dramatically but soon joined in the battle for viewer attention.
For those who thought KCBS might simply have been slow on the story, a station spokeswoman said: "We were playing it down."
But that didn't last long.
In recent days, the city's TV stations have promised restraint in covering the outcome of the trial. But the competitive fervor of Friday's events might well have made viewers wonder if this was a prelude to Superbowl-type coverage of the case's outcome.
KNBC had the Rev. Jesse Jackson as a studio guest. And after Jackson noted the long-range problems facing urban America, anchor Colleen Williams said, in a moment to remember, that there was some needed good news--the weather.
KNBC also repeatedly drove home the belief that clear-cut verdicts were in the works rather than a hung jury, although stations such as KABC were more conservative in their appraisals.
Later in the evening, KNBC also remained on the air after Mayor Tom Bradley's brief televised message to the city in which he said: "Let's all keep cool." The station, maintaining its dramatic approach, eliminated its first half-hour of prime-time entertainment in presenting its coverage.
On its evening news, NBC anchor Tom Brokaw also did a live segment to the West Coast that was part of the KNBC coverage.