PEOPLE's TV Critic surveys the network broadcasts' takes on Friday's big television event

By Tom Gliatto
Updated April 29, 2011 11:15 AM

“I want you to wake up the kids,” Barbara Walters told viewers a few minutes past 4 a.m. (ET), when ABC launched its Royal Wedding coverage.

She wanted the children to witness a event with “bands and music and a divine ceremony and queens and dukes – the whole works!” This really wouldn’t have been fair to the kids on a school day, but Walters’s burbling yet commanding presence is invaluable during these things. She was there in London, gearing up for the wedding of William and Kate, imagining aloud whether the Queen was putting on her hat over at Buckingham Palace, all while exchanging trivia with Diane Sawyer. It turns out there are 78 bathrooms in Buckingham Palace.

But, then, it was two hours until the actual wedding – the genuine whole works – at 6 a.m. (ET) – and all the newscasters had to keep going until then.

Over at NBC’s Today, Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira, introduced by Disney princess music, had set up for work at a white anchor desk that looked like something for viewing the races at Ascot. The tone was very much in keeping with what they call the Today “family,” as spots were given to Al Roker and Ann Curry out and about on the grounds. The feel was more democratic than at Good Morning America, where Sawyer, in her unwrinkled silken modulation, always seems to maintain a wise detachment as she says things like: “Sometimes a flash of color can give us a sense of hope.” Vieira, instead, mentioned that she had cried in Westminster Abbey during Easter services, and Lauer said he was enjoying all the pomp more than he’d expected. “It’s very, very exhilarating.”

CBS’s departing Katie Couric was dressed in a pink suit that played very prettily against the soft morning light falling on Westminster, but the first hour was mostly given over to a replay of Charles and Diana’s wedding. Bittersweet much? Things improved with live coverage in the second hour, when she asked with pleasant irreverence whether the meeting of Kate Middleton‘s parents with Charles and Camilla had been a bit like Meet the Fockers. She also brought up the undignified subject of Kate’s heavily tattooed uncle Gary. Regrettably, she occasionally cut to an excitable on-the-spot correspondent, who at one point interviewed two girls who’d come all the way from the Jersey Shore. They were disappointingly normal-looking, lacking any sort of Snooki pouf.

Now, if Snooki had been invited – that would have been reason to wake the kids. The lack of celebrity guests must have been frustrating to all the news divisions, even if it suggested good taste by the palace. You had the Beckhams, and Elton John and his partner David Furnish, and the prime minister, amid a rather uniform crowd of stiff-looking men and women in wildly angled hats. Hovering over all was also the nagging question of what designer the bride would be wearing. “I don’t think Kate Middleton is a billowing-train kind of girl,” said one commentator. Vieira asked an expert: “Are you sensing a tiara?”

It was a bit of a relief when the procession of cars – mostly Rolls-Royces in a wonderfully deep burgundy – began depositing the wedding party and the suspense built. The visuals were handsome, and the commentary was crammed with incidental detail for every arrival. It can’t be easy to sum up Charles’s history with Diana and then Camilla, or Camilla’s relationship with his sons, as well as the issue of whether Charles would ever be bypassed in the line of succession, not to mention the question of his strangely antediluvian character, in the space of a few minutes. But somehow everyone across all the channels managed to chip in all the relevant details.

The service itself was lovely. The bride was lovely. The couple is lovely. William, although he has his father’s height and head, has a surprising amount of his mother in his eyes and mouth. Their children will be lovely. “This is a very human wedding,” said Walters. True.

Thank you, all, for your conscientious work! The follow-up shows probably will package it all better, and I look forward to Joan Rivers’s fashion commentary on E! Kids should not stay up for that.