NEW YORK (AP) — 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.
"I have a feeling around the country that there will be a lot of people who will want to help him get his boat back," Sawyer said.
During the long day of coverage, networks seemed to keep in mind Wednesday's embarrassment, when some news organizations erroneously reported that a suspect in the bombing had been arrested. The scarcity of solid information did lead to moments of confusion, though. In midmorning, MSNBC was reporting that a second suspect was being hunted. CNN flashed on its screen that police were searching for a Honda that the suspect may be driving in Connecticut.
Other networks didn't follow those reports and they were dropped as the search remained shrouded in mystery.
Pete Williams of NBC reported in midmorning that authorities believed they had the suspect cornered in a house and ABC's Pierre Thomas similarly reported that police were moving in. But hours went by without any news.
Shortly after 8 a.m., Fox News Channel reported explosions and indicated the drama might be coming to a head. Two hours later, NBC's Kerry Sanders was crouching on the ground talking on his cellphone, ordered down by police. It was pulse-quickening drama that led nowhere.
Both CNN and NBC told viewers that they were putting live pictures of the manhunt on a five-second delay to protect viewers in case the drama turned bloody.
Networks found friends and relatives of the suspects to talk about them, with Dzhokhar almost universally described as sharp and friendly. But in a news conference, an estranged uncle of the men, Ruslan Tsani, described his nephews as losers.
The suspects' Chechen background led to talk about whether the marathon bombing had something to do with Chechnya's longtime conflict with Russia. Others noted that Dzhokhar had been in the United States for many years, perhaps moving when he was only 9.
"The more we find out about him, the less we seem to know him," CBS' Bob Schieffer said.
As the day went on, networks found it harder to fill the time. Video of the overnight firefight was played over and over. NBC's Brian Williams had a fascinating interview with a couple who lived overlooking the street where the gunplay took place, describing bullets that came into their home. But it turned long-winded.
Williams later reacted with aplomb when NBC briefly cut to a simulcast of a New England cable news network, only to be greeted by a man who uttered an expletive.
"Well, that was a fortuitous time to dip into the coverage of New England Cable News," Williams said, apologizing to viewers as NBC quickly switched away.
Individual networks were able to show strengths during the coverage. ABC's Bianna Golodryga used her fluency in Russian to conduct interviews with the suspects' father. On CBS, John Miller and Bill Bratton displayed their police connections in a knowledgeable and low-key manner.
NBC's star-crossed "Today" show had sent Matt Lauer to Texas on Friday to the scene of a fertilizer plant explosion, where he was largely forgotten. Earlier in the week, Savannah Guthrie's interview with President Barack Obama was overlooked because it happened hours before the marathon bombings.
Lauer's absence gave Guthrie her greatest visibility since she joined "Today" last summer, however, as she led NBC's coverage.
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