The Fourth on TV: Making Fireworks Interesting
July 4, 2016

Thirty minutes is a long fireworks show. Not unspectacular mind you, but long. Especially when you aren't there, and watching on TV. Of course the “feel” might not be right, but you don't have to deal with thousands of people and the crowds and traffic that comes with it, either.

With our local Marysville Gold Sox baseball team off on July 4 this year, and the close to ten-minute “low level” extravaganza at the park last night, tonight was a chance to lay low, chill, listen to the safe and sane cones being lit off outside, and watch the networks try to bring the magic of the Fourth into people's living rooms.

Two of the four major commercial networks went with Independence Day shows along with PBS. It was a little strange that Washington DC was the PBS event, with NBC going to New York, and CBS from Boston. ABC and Fox passed on the holiday fare.

While all three shows culminated in the pyrotechnics, they were all really about music. Some of it was patriotic, with some artist standards thrown in (Kenny Loggins doing Footloose in DC for example). The stages were meant for television, and I'm sure the throngs that attended in person likely didn't get the same experience, but that's to be expected, right?

While all three shows were two hours long, the only thing you needed to see was the final half hour. Aerial shots showing Manhattan from a distance and the fireworks being launched from barges were unbelievable. In our nation's capital, however, kind of a different story.

To the music of the 1812 Overture, there were ground level shots of the cannons that were launching the fireworks, then grand pictures of colors lighting up a clear sky over the Washington Monument, followed by the Capitol way off in the distance with pyrotechnic explosions under an overcast and somewhat foggy background. So what gives?

Viewers noticed that the “live”show wasn't live, and complained on social media. PBS acknowledged in a tweet that, “ with the weather being overcast we showed a combination of the best fireworks from this year and previous years. It was the patriotic thing to do.” They also seemed to cut the show short.

PBS' West Coast broadcast was about an hour behind NBC's, so you could watch the mega-show in NYC, followed by the Tom Bergeron-hosted American Bandstand type affair on PBS. However, before the Dick Clark of today closed the pre-fireworks portion with Loggins, they brought out gospel star Yolanda Adams, who did a great rendition of a song that for some reason you just don't hear anymore—America (My Country 'Tis of Thee). At least in the show's last half-hour, the highlight of the evening.

Meanwhile on NBC, kind of a combination of the Today Show meets the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (Macy's was the title sponsor after all). The music had a purely patriotic tone. After military marches and service anthems, the highlight was Jennifer Holliday singing America the Beautiful while the fireworks raged. The skies were a lot clearer in New York than in Washington, so no fake montages were necessary.

The real Independence Day flavor, though, came long before those network shows. It was watching the Dodger game. Yes, the Dodgers won, but the best part was Vin Scully ducking in notes every inning about the history of the Declaration of Independence (only two people signed it on July 4, the rest later). The Dodgers were also playing a rare interleague game against the Baltimore Orioles, so we were regaled with Fort McHenry, the War of 1812, and a guy at sea who wrote a poem that would later become our National Anthem. All of this while Piccolo Petes were being lit on the street outside my window. That's a Fourth of July for you.

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