April 4, 2012

The assassination of Martin Luther King - April 4, 1968

We do seem to dwell on death a lot at this site, don't we?  But there's no question the death of a prominent person provides television with some of its most dramatic moments.  Such a time was 44 years ago today, as we see with CBS' bulletin on the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Note that in the five years since the assassination of JFK, CBS has changed its graphics.  Although they still use a modification of the repeating "CBS News" script, it is now a "Special Report" rather than a "Bulletin," a convention which is more or less standard today.  As a matter of fact, I can't recall the last time I saw an actual bulletin on TV*; the going concern nowadays is "Breaking News." 

*Actually, I think I do - it was in 1981, when ABC interrupted with the shooting of Ronald Reagan.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was not an elected official, a head of state or government; yet, such was the impact he made that his murder caused regular programming to be pre-empted, and his funeral would cause the Academy Awards to be postponed for two days. TV  


  1. That night's "Evening News" came from Washington. Cronkite reportedly left to drive to the airport and back to New York just as the first flash of MLK's murder broke. He heard the news and turned around back to the CBS bureau.

    That's why Dan Rather did the first flash, around 7:30 P.M. ET.

    The "Evening News" opening we see here was what normally was the West Coast feed (around 9 or 9:30 P.M. ET), which was fed to the full network, including stations that had carried the East Coast feed at 6:30 or 7 Eastern time.

    In fact, I believe Cronkite had started the day at Cape Canaveral to cover the second test launch of the Saturn 5 moon rocket, flew to D.C. to do the news (since he had more time to prepare than if he had returned to New York), and would fly back to New York after the news.

  2. That night, NBC pulled its scheduled episode of DRAGNET. The story focused on a teenager's growing delinquency, climaxing with him gunning down a man at a bus stop. It wasn't shown on-air, but the mere act of Bill Gannon relaying to Joe Friday the teen "blew (the man's) head off" was considered too much for that night. The episode never ran on the network, but is part of the syndication package.


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