NEW YORK — The passing of Sen. Ted Kennedy just a few hours earlier absorbed TV newscasts Wednesday morning. He was 77.
With the Massachusetts senator's grave medical condition widely known, the networks were ready with tributes, commentators and mournful music to air at each commercial break.
Archival footage was also ready, from glimpses of an impossibly young-looking Senate freshman in 1963 at the funeral of his slain brother, President John F. Kennedy, to excerpts from his rousing "torch will be passed again" speech delivered exactly a year ago at the 2008 Democratic Convention.
ABC News was on the air at 1:18 a.m. EDT reporting Kennedy's death. A fresh West Coast edition of the Tuesday "Nightline" was completed for airing at 2:35 a.m. EDT.
The Wednesday morning news shows (on ABC, CBS and NBC, as well as MSNBC and CNN) mostly cleared the decks to cover Kennedy's death.
At times, the coverage seemed to extend beyond reportage to wardrobe: Ann Curry, co-hosting "Today," was dressed all in black.
Fox News Channel seemed a bit more selective, adding to its mix such reports as unruly health care demonstrations, how prison inmates are getting stimulus plan money and a Muslim girl who worried that her parents will kill her if she converts to another religion. Football coach Lou Holtz paid a visit and country singer Jack Ingram performed.
Friends and colleagues paid homage, as did journalists.
On CBS' "Early Show," veteran correspondent Bob Schieffer likened Kennedy to "a fictional character: in fiction the hero is not someone who's perfect. He is someone who overcomes his own flaws and then goes on to do noble things."
On MSNBC, Chris Matthews spoke of Kennedy as "a brother to his brothers," each of whom had died young and violently. Then, referring to Kennedy's crucial choice of Democrat for the presidency last year, Matthews went on, "I think he extended that brotherhood to Barack Obama. He made him the new brother ... and the Clintons were passed over."
And Fox News Channel anchor Megyn Kelly offered what was less a paean than an impassioned defense, which she framed by saying, "no matter what your thoughts about Sen. Kennedy ... that man was a public servant."
She went on, "We're getting a lot of e-mail from some folks saying, 'You're not mentioning some of the other parts of his legacy — of course, Mary Jo Kopechne was killed and he was at the wheel, and was cited and pleaded guilty to abandoning the scene of the accident, something that later derailed his presidential hopes, many believe. ... But the major part of his legacy is the service he provided to this country."
Several networks announced special programs devoted to Kennedy's life and career to air Wednesday night:
- "Ted Kennedy, the Last Brother" (CBS at 8 p.m. EDT).
- "Remembering Ted Kennedy" (ABC at 10 p.m. EDT).
- "Teddy: In His Own Words" (previously aired by HBO, airing on CNN at 7 p.m. EDT).
- "The Kennedy Brothers: A Hardball Documentary" (previously announced by MSNBC, airing 9 p.m. EDT as well as Thursday, 7 p.m. EDT).
- Bio Channel announced "Bio Remembers: Ted Kennedy" to air Thursday at 9 p.m. EDT.