NBC did not interrupt its broadcast Thursday of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade to bring viewers the news that an M&M balloon had crashed into a light pole, injuring two sisters. In fact, when the time came in the tightly scripted three-hour program for the balloon's appearance, NBC weaved in tape of the balloon crossing the finish line at last year's parade - even as the damaged balloon was being dragged from the accident scene.
At 11:47 a.m., as an 11-year-old girl and her 26-year-old sister were being treated for injuries, the parade's announcers - Katie Couric, Matt Lauer and Al Roker - kept up their light-hearted repartee from Herald Square, where the parade ends. "Will these classic candy men get out of this delicious dilemma?" Roker asked, referring not to the accident but to the premise of the attraction, a red M&M's attempt to save his yellow counterpart, who had been blown from the basket of a hot-air balloon.
Ten minutes later, the upbeat broadcast ended without mention of the accident in Times Square. CNN carried a flash about the accident at 11:51, while the parade telecast was going on. NBC's cable news network, MSNBC, followed two minutes later. And WNBC, the New York affiliate, carried the news at 12:30 p.m.
But Cameron Blanchard, a spokeswoman for NBC's entertainment division, which broadcast the parade, said the anchors did not deviate much from the script because it was not clear at the time what had happened. "We had been alerted that there had been an incident," she said. "But no further details had been conveyed to us." When the balloon failed to arrive at Herald Square at the appointed time, she said, "we rolled with some previously recorded footage."
That said, the situation made for a jarring confluence of scripted and unscripted reality.
At 11:47 a.m., about seven minutes after the accident, the screen image faded from live coverage of a high school marching band from Kennesaw, Ga., to last year's tape of the M&M balloon.
Couric, telling the audience that it was looking at old tape, riffed on the balloon's concept of M&M's in distress. "Now, because of today's windy conditions," Couric told viewers, "these characters are on video, and if we told you they were not in a panic, we'd be full of hot air."
Lauer, Couric's co-anchor on Today, chimed in: "You may be thinking `color us clueless' as they flirt with trouble, with Yellow hanging on by a thread and Red struggling to keep his best buddy from flying off into the blue."
Roker then spoke his lines: "Will these classic candymen get out of this delicious dilemma? Hard to say, but when it comes to sweetness, Yellow and Red continue to melt your heart, but not in your hand." Blanchard said she did not know what the announcers knew about the accident at the time.
After that, it was on to the Pillsbury Doughboy, and, bringing up the rear, Santa and his wife. "Old Saint Nick and Mrs. Claus, his wife of, what, 200 years?" Couric said. "What a marriage. What a team." With that, the parade was over. "It's obvious the three of us have had a great time today," Lauer concluded, "and we hope all of you did as well."