Boston manhunt drama grips television networks

NEW YORK – So much for scripted police procedurals. The marathon manhunt in Boston was a real-life drama that kept the biggest television networks and their viewers on edge for most of the day and into Friday evening, with a city’s safety hanging in the balance.

It had a prime-time conclusion, too. Shortly before 9 p.m. EDT, and three hours after the sound of gunfire indicated the end might be near, Boston police announced that the second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing had been taken into custody.

Cameras caught Boston residents celebrating the end of a long, tense day. They poured into the streets to cheer police cars as they passed through, with many in TV news celebrating with them. NBC’s Brian Williams noted that people never want to see a police car coming behind them on the road, but they’re the first thing people want to see when trouble comes to a community.

“I feel like I’ve been watching a bad movie that I couldn’t turn off,” said one resident, Rita Colella, interviewed on NBC.

Viewers woke up to the news Friday that one suspect in Monday’s bombing had been killed overnight, with another still at large. ABC, CBS and NBC took the unusual step of casting aside regular programming to cover the story throughout the day, joined by the cable news networks.

The coverage mixed moments of real excitement with tedium as the search continued for 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who escaped during an overnight shootout with police that killed his older brother Tamerlan.

TV was a window to the world for residents of Boston and some surrounding areas, who were asked by authorities to stay in their homes as the search went on.

“It’s unbelievable, unprecedented to see a major metropolitan area essentially called to a halt,” Chris Jansing said on MSNBC.

The evening action came as attention to the story was beginning to lag. After a full day of coverage, NBC switched to Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show. Massachusetts authorities lifted their order that everyone in Boston and some suburbs stay at home.

The gunfire and rushing police cars around 7 p.m. EDT snapped the networks back to attention. After confirming that police had found someone hiding under a boat stored in a backyard, CBS quickly found a Google Maps image from above the yard that showed the boat stored there for the winter.

ABC’s Diane Sawyer interviewed a witness who calmly said his neighbor had gone into the backyard when police eased restrictions and found blood on his boat and saw someone hiding there. He quickly called authorities. The homeowner was upset that his boat was riddled with gunfire after police arrived.