HBO will kick off coverage of Inauguration Week with an exclusive Sunday, Jan. 18, telecast of the star-studded opening ceremony, two days before the saturation coverage of President Barack Obama's inauguration begins in earnest.
In 1993, HBO paid $1.5 million to the Presidential Inaugural Committee to exclusively televise Bill Clinton's kickoff from the Lincoln Memorial, something that annoyed non-HBO subscribers who weren't able to watch the concert by Bob Dylan and Diana Ross.
This time around, HBO -- which has been awarded the rights for an undisclosed sum -- is planning to offer the event free to cable and satellite subscribers, regardless of whether they have the pay channel or not. The entertainment lineup for the event, which may also be streamed, hasn't yet been announced, but both Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are scheduled to attend.
"(HBO's) proven track record as a leader in television will help ensure an event that reflects President-elect Obama's commitment to holding an inauguration that is open, accessible and reflects America's spirit of unity," inaugural committee executive director Emmett S. Beliveau said.
Meanwhile, while they won't be televising that Sunday afternoon event live, the other networks -- including all the broadcast and cable news channels as well as TV One -- are rolling out extensive coverage of the Jan. 20 inauguration and the events preceding it. Plans that will include a full-court press of the top anchors and correspondents, Web streaming of events and, in some cases, extensive radio. All three broadcast nets will feature an hour of prime time as well, capping several days of heavy coverage.
"It's more of an inaugural week than Inauguration Day," ABC News chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos said Tuesday.
In prime time, CBS anchor Katie Couric will anchor a one-hour special at 9 p.m. ET about the first hours of the Obama administration. NBC and ABC will have their own hourlong specials at 10 p.m. ET. For its part, NBC hasn't aired an hourlong inauguration special since 1993 when Clinton was inaugurated.
That's one of the last times in recent memory that there has been such a changing of the guard at the White House. In 1997 and 2005, it was the beginning of the second term of a sitting president. In 2000, because of the lengthy court battle over the results, there wasn't as much time to plan the pomp and circumstance.
"It's going to be an incredibly historic day in our country's history," CBS News president Sean McManus said.
The networks saw intense interest in the presidential campaign and election that has, for the most part, carried through to the transition. CBS, for instance, logged its highest ratings in two decades for its 60 Minutes sit-down with the President-elect and Michelle Obama.
Stephanopoulos, who will co-anchor along with Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer -- the same ABC team that anchored throughout the primaries, convention and election night -- said this inauguration is unusual in many respects.
"Here you've got the drama of the changing of the guard combined with a barrier-breaking president and the biggest challenge the country has ever faced probably since FDR was inaugurated," Stephanopoulos said.
The day will begin for the networks between 5-7 a.m. ET, when the morning shows set up the event at Capitol Hill. Many of the anchor platforms will be set up around the Mall in Washington, with CNN and ABC at the Newseum and MSNBC on the mall itself. Major coverage will take place beginning at about 10:30 a.m., when the Obamas visit the White House for the traditional tea before the president and president-elect take the motorcade the short distance to Capitol Hill where the swearing in will take place. There are other events throughout the day, including a long parade that will be televised by all the major networks.
CBS' initial plan was to televise the Obama and Bush motorcade to Capitol Hill as well as Obama's swearing in and part of the parade. But McManus said Tuesday that many affiliates were interested in having even more than the planned 2 p.m. ET cut off, so CBS News is offering a telecast of the parade until 5 p.m. ET. The other networks are staying on the air until local newscasts kick in near the end of the parade.
ABC's coverage will include a three-hour edition of Good Morning America, which will feature all four of its anchors at the Library of Congress. Gibson, Sawyer and Stephanopoulos will take the baton at 10 a.m. and remain on air until the late afternoon and again for the 10 p.m. prime-time special.
CNN's coverage includes Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper anchoring from the Newseum, while others from CNN's team will make appearances throughout the day. In the evening, Campbell Brown will have a two-hour live special beginning after The Situation Room at 7 p.m. and then three hours of AC 360 with Cooper. The night will close with a special midnight ET Larry King Live from Washington, D.C.
Brown's and Cooper's shows will include full coverage of the many official balls that will be going on.
NBC will begin the day with the Today crew in Washington, giving way at 10:30 a.m. to Brian Williams and others until at least 4 p.m. A network special will be anchored by Williams and others at 10 p.m.
MSNBC's coverage will be hosted by Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews and the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson, all at an outdoor set on the Mall. The early coverage will come from Morning Joe, which will originate from a diner in Washington, D.C. MSNBC's live coverage will go until at least midnight ET.
Another big feature will be extended online coverage. CBS, for instance, will have an exclusive, expanded inauguration site. And as she has done throughout the political season, Couric will anchor a Webcast beginning at about 10 p.m. ET.
McManus said that, for the first time, there will be a sponsor for it but he declined to name the company.