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Short-staffed networks rely on British broadcasters in Di story

September 1, 1997 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ U.S. television networks short-staffed on a holiday weekend scrambled to report news of Princess Diana’s death, relying heavily on British broadcasters for help.

Word of the Paris car crash that killed Diana broke on television shortly after 8 p.m. EDT. Saturday. After a few hours of mystery about her condition, the news turned grim after 11:30 p.m. and her death was reported about 11:50 p.m.

CNN, although victimized by a hoaxster, and ABC were the most aggressive in their coverage. At NBC, Brian Williams arrived about 11 p.m. to anchor news bulletins and continuous coverage on cable news sister MSNBC.

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CBS was slow off the mark and in the minutes after Diana’s death was announced and aired professional wrestling while its rivals reported the story.

CBS affiliates were offered live feeds of Sky TV, a British service, early in the evening and it was used heavily by the network all night. CBS officials conceded they had difficulty, with no 24-hour news operation, getting started.

``I think our coverage all night long was excellent, but I would have preferred to go to Sky TV earlier,″ CBS News President Andrew Heyward said Sunday. ``It’s just an unfortunate set of circumstances that took us longer than I would have liked to get our own people on the air.″

The networks had to rely on holiday weekend crews for one of the biggest stories of the year because many on their regular news staffs were away for the holiday.

ABC used feeds from the British Broadcasting Corp. to show how that country was reacting to the shocking death.

MSNBC took the BBC feed with its permission and aired it for 20 minutes before the permission was rescinded, spokesman Cory Shields said.

Fox News Channel, which broadcast all night on Diana’s death, also relied heavily on Sky TV to supplement its correspondence.

CBS’s Dan Rather was to travel to London after anchoring the Sunday night news broadcast in New York. Diane Sawyer, Barbara Walters and Peter Jennings pieced together an ABC special on Diana’s life for Sunday night, while CBS’s ``60 Minutes″ and ``Dateline NBC″ also planned Sunday night shows devoted to Diana’s death.

During CNN’s coverage Saturday, a man who identified himself as Michael Solomon spoke on the air with newscaster Linden Soles, saying he was an eyewitness to the accident and offering descriptions. But at the end he laughed hysterically and hung up.

About two hours before Diana’s death became known, actor Tom Cruise called CNN and was put on the air complaining about paparazzi coverage.

``That’s harassment,″ he said of photographers who chase after celebrities in vehicles.