Katie Couric’s “Jubilee Queen” aired on May 29, 2012. While the two-hour “20-20” special did a thorough job of presenting Queen Elizabeth’s life, including all the major turning-points, it didn’t spend enough time on any of them. The end result was of receiving a sampler plate at a restaurant: not a real meal, and not really very satisfying.
The major interest was in the insider looks. Viewers received an inside look at the garden party where, just a week ago, Katie Couric met the Queen. Prince William hinted that he might be leaving the RAF to focus on his king-training. He implied that, increasingly, it was becoming hard to balance military work and king work. And he also refused point blank to say anything about when a baby might arrive, even as Ms. Couric tried for her scoop. (Story continues below.)
More interesting was the seeing clash between Katie Couric’s journalistic style and the royal household. There was that certain way the Queen’s senior staff failed to roll their eyes, but seemed really to want to, when their guest asked if she could peep into the royal chambers behind the secret Buckingham Palace door. Disguised as furniture and a mirror, it lets the Queen and Prince Philip make a capital-E Entrance.
“I think you’ll find they’re locked,” was the calm response, after the slightest of pauses. Likewise, when Couric pushed for dirt on the royal wedding reception, came this paraphrased response: “We only have very tasteful parties here.”
Throughout the special, soundbites of interviews with Prince William, Prince Harry, Prince Andrew, Princess Eugenie and Princess Beatrice were cut into footage from 60 years of the Queen’s realm. We learned, if we didn’t know already, that many Britons bought their first television set to watch the coronation. It was also almost startling to see the difference between the adoring, fawning reporting of the 1950s and the informality, entertainment-centric style of 21st-century reporting; it’s hard to tell which is worse.
A connection was made between the Queen learning to use media and the way the media learned to use the royals. A brief glimpse of the Princess of Wales, covering a camera lens and saying she’d appreciate some privacy here, a rather disjointed account of Diana’s death and the way the Queen handled herself there, was about as critical as the show ever got.
Royal photographer Arthur Edwards added pleasant color and necessary perspective. At once point, the show seemed to be saying that Prince William and Prince Harry were “the next generation,” forgetting all about Prince Charles. Arthur Edwards, who had nothing but praise for the Queen, put that straight when he said he reckoned Prince Charles would make a very good king.
Meanwhile, the show reduced actually quite exclusive interviews into a series of soundbites. To make Katie Couric’s “Jubilee Queen 20-20” more satisfying, the interview clips needed to be longer and all in one place. There needed to be fewer teasers inviting viewers already viewing to come back after the break. Without the teasers, probably another 20 minutes of footage could have been squeezed in.
As an overview of the Queen’s life, tonight’s show worked. It was entertaining, interesting—for sure. But it would have been nicer if “The Diamond Queen With Katie Couric” had been merely an appetizer, the precursor to a more solid “meal” in the form of documentaries that could have explored the Queen’s life in much more depth. One can only hope that the extensive coverage of the central Jubilee weekend on ABC will go some way towards that depth.
For those who missed the show, at the time of writing, clips are currently showing up on the ABC Youtube page.
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Get British Royal Family news by subscribing to this column or using the RSS feed. Linda Gentile is the British Royal Family Examiner and you can also follow on Twitter and Facebook. And, for yet more British life and culture, check out Linda’s British Life column.