Wednesday, April 2, 2014

John Paul II Captures New York

(Photo by RNC)
By Philip Alongi

My career as a journalist started around the same time Karol Jozef Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II. Like all emerging “rock stars,” he needed to come to New York where, as the song says, “If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere...” And boy did he make it. From the moment he arrived on October 2, the city, no, the entire metropolitan area was his. Every movement was covered, and the local stations in the number one U.S. TV market could not give their audiences enough. The images stay burned into my brain. Everyone wanted to see him and be a part of this event. The young and old of all faiths wanted to be able to say, “I was in his presence.” Even for a New Yorker, it was like nothing else I had ever seen.

The love affair with John Paul II was to continue for his entire reign. I was honored to be asked to produce the live TV production of the Mass he celebrated in Central Park on October 7, 1995. The crowd on that Saturday morning started to pour in before the sun rose. People had had very little and, in some cases I am sure, no sleep. Still you could feel the excitement and energy level rise as they began to congregate. When the celebration began, the crowd was estimated to be as high as 1.5 million people. And as he entered, they rose as one to greet him and be sure he felt their love. It is a moment I will never forget.

A special events producer is assigned to plan and produce all types of projects. Some are unexpected, while others you can anticipate and plan for. The passing of a world leader is one of the events for which we do prepare. When NBC asked me to plan for and oversee the coverage of Pope John Paul II’s funeral, I realized the importance of my task. The magnitude of this event was clear and staff knew there was no room for underestimating the expectations of the viewing audience and the competitiveness among the journalists. If ever there was a time when all the talent the team had needed to be utilized, this was it. But this wasn’t only a professional task. This was also a personal one.

John Paul II was my spiritual leader and, after all he did for me, I finally had an opportunity to show my appreciation. From the first moment I began to work on this project, good wasn’t good enough. I sought perfection. I have always taken my responsibility to the viewing audience seriously but never more so than with this project. For all of those watching NBC's coverage, I knew we had to provide coverage that would honor this great man and give all of those watching at home the feeling that they too were in Rome.

Looking back, I can honestly say I am very proud of the work the men and women of NBC did to honor Pope John Paul II.


Philip Alongi was an NBC News Special Events producer. He currently heads Alongimedia.

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