Elizabethan Drama

Stations gear up for the arrival of the British monarch

Local broadcasters are rolling out the red carpet for Queen Elizabeth II, who pulls into town this week to mark the 400th anniversary of her compatriots' settling in Jamestown, Va.

The British queen and her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, have made three previous state visits to the U.S.: Meeting President Eisenhower in 1957 (coincident with the 350th anniversary of Jamestown), attending the Bicentennial in 1976, and convening with the first President Bush in 1991.

Queen Elizabeth doesn't arrive in Richmond until Thursday, May 3, but the media clamor is already under way. She'll visit with Governor Tim Kaine May 3 and pop into the Capitol before addressing the state assembly. (She also will pay tribute to the victims of the Virginia Tech shootings, though not actually visit the campus).

Area stations will draw from pool reportage, while also generating their own stories. “Our coverage will be pretty massive on Thursday and Friday,” says WWBT Richmond Director of News Operations Woody Coats.

The NBC affiliate, owned by Lincoln Financial Group, created a special section of wwbt.com to keep users apprised of Elizabeth's every move. Labeled “The Royal Visit,” the section offers an interactive quiz, slide show and streaming video, among other things. Besides its regular staff, WWBT is tapping BBC reporter Alex Ward to offer her take on the Queen's visit.

Over at Richmond's CBS affiliate, WTVR too is drawing on overseas expertise. It sent reporter Greg McQuade to England to monitor the reaction there, while shipping in BBC bloodhound Mark Norman for his perspective.

The Raycom station is focusing more on the Jamestown anniversary, which marks the first permanent English settlement in the Americas, than on the Queen's arrival. It's hyping “Jamestown 2007—America's 400th Anniversary” on its home page, soliciting comments from Web visitors and offering streaming video.

In conjunction with a massive celebration in Jamestown the weekend of May 11-13 (after the Queen has returned to Britain), WTVR is also co-producing, with three area CBS affiliates, a syndicated program called America's 400th Anniversary. The hour-long special will be hosted by Russ Mitchell, anchor of the Sunday CBS Evening News, and features musical acts and historic vignettes.

The special is cleared in around 50% of the country, including almost all the CBS-owned stations. Peter Maroney, WTVR VP/general manager, is hoping to find overseas takers as well. “I'd think Great Britain would be interested, too,” he says, calling it a “once-in-a-lifetime event.”

As the weekend of May 5-6 arrives, the Queen is on to Louisville, Ky., to take in the Kentucky Derby before heading to Washington. WLKY Louisville News Director Mike Neelly calls Elizabeth “an avid horse fan” who once raised horses in the area.

He says his newsroom should be bustling: “Even if the Queen wasn't coming here, the fact that it's Derby Week is big in and of itself.”

WAVE Louisville is airing the Derby (and the bacchanalia surrounding it) from 6 a.m. until the final race ends some 13 hours later, and VP/General Manager Steve Langford says the station is “in a frenzy” trying to get a little face time with Her Majesty. (Security surrounding the Queen, of course, will be extremely tight.)

Having the Queen on the air would be a crowning achievement, Langford says: “It's the Sport of Kings, with the Queen present. It's a big deal.”