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Breaking News Interruption

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"This is an ABC News Special Report..."

On occasion, the broadcasts of television programs will be interrupted. Mainly this is some sort of Emergency Broadcast, but more often than not, it's a piece of breaking news that is being reported. The channel will usually cut into whatever show is playing with coverage by their news arm of whatever event is happening. Another variation on this trope is running a news banner during the program announcing a piece of breaking news without interrupting the actual show, a common sight on Japanese networks.

This trope is frequently used by major broadcast networks, and is rarely, if ever, done by non-news cable networks. In the digital era, mobile news app push notifications tend to have this effect.

Compare to Commercial Pop-Up, when a channel uses a pop-up to advertise a show. When a news program is interrupted for breaking news, that's This Just In!.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    In general 
There are certain patterns one can observe when looking at how networks break news:
  • In the United Kingdom, the fastest response is usually for the death of a member of The British Royal Family. The following patterns can be observed:
    • A standard interruption, where normal programming is replaced with the picture of the Union Jack and sombre music. The minute you see this, you know someone important has just died. More specialised networks might not necessarily interrupt their programming, but if they don't, they'll show a message telling you to turn to a news channel (but won't tell you why). In some cases they've been rehearsing for years; in others, like in the case of Princess Diana (who died suddenly in a car crash in 1997), it was basically combined with This Just In!. In all cases, no programming can just wait to finish, whether the audience wants it or not; in Australia, viewers lost their minds when The ABC interrupted Vera to announce the death of Prince Phillip.
    • Tributes and documentaries to the deceased, which can last for days. News entities, both on TV and in print, spend years putting this material together. In many cases, viewers don't really appreciate it; when Prince Phillip died in 2021, the coverage was so extensive that The BBC received a record number of complaints about it.
    • Ongoing coverage of the aftermath. In the case of Queen Elizabeth II, who died in September 2022, it really was a big deal because the head of state was changing for the first time in nearly seventy years, but even for other royals it can happen. In the Queen's case, even children's programming was pre-empted; Channel 5 got so many complaints about this on social media that on the day of the Queen's funeral, they made it a point not to cover it wall-to-wall and instead showed family-oriented movies like The Emoji Movie.
  • The BBC likes to break news with the message, "This is the BBC from London" (sometimes coupled with "Normal programming has been suspended"). This can happen with the death of a Royal (or someone else who's important like the incumbent Prime Minister), or it can serve as a prelude to an Emergency Broadcast, as Britain doesn't technically have a separate system for it like the U.S. and other countries do.
  • 24-Hour News Networks practically abuse the term "Breaking News", to the point where one wonders whether they even know what the term means. One can probably attribute it to entertaining the viewers; people don't want to know the news so much as be the first to know the news, even if it means getting it in garbled bits and pieces in the rush to transmit it. Fox News is America's worst offender, calling it the "Fox News Alert" (like it's some military thing) and using it for both their Media Scaremongering and celebrity news; it got so bad that longtime anchor Shepard Smith called them out on it. But it happens all over the world, even in non-English programming (e.g. Hindi news channels love using the English term "breaking news"). Also, where most networks use "Special Report" for all but the more critical newscasts, Fox News uses "Special Report" as the name of its regular 6:00 p.m. newscast.
  • In America, the gold standard of breaking news was the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks; it remains CNN's record of how fast they broke a story, even though at the point when they broke it nobody had any reason to believe it was a terrorist attack and not just a horrifying and unlikely plane crash. There's plenty of footage on YouTube, on all kinds of channels; it's especially eerie to see how "normally" the day started. Some regular programs took days to come back on the air.
  • America loves interruptions for extreme weather, and there tends to be a lot of it (at least outside of perpetually sunny California). Whenever there's a big snowstorm in the Northeast, a tornado in the Midwest, or a hurricane in the South, the over-the-air networks interrupt their programming to allow local news there to cover the progress of the storm and its aftermath. Even national networks like CNN will sometimes cover a storm as if it were a local network and give advice to a national (and even international) audience as if they all lived in the affected area. This could last for the better part of a day. People occasionally complain about the preemption of normal programming, but since severe weather can actually be dangerous, they usually lose that argumentnote . In 1977, it also led to a Coincidental Broadcast of sorts in Michigan, when the series finale of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, whose storyline involved a tornado striking the show's setting in Ohio, was interrupted for coverage of a real tornado warning.
  • The COVID-19 Pandemic was the first time in America that all of the major TV stations in the United States interrupted their programming at the same time to cover the same event. It started on March 16, 2020, and continued every day for weeks. Which made sense; those early months of the pandemic were quite harrowing and full of uncertainty, and the White House was giving press briefings every day on the state of the virus and what was being done about it. Sometimes those briefings would themselves be interrupted to show state or local briefings (which tended to be even more relevant given their focus on local lockdown rules and hospital capacity). One nasty tendency was for these briefings to take place during normal working hours — when the channels were showing kids' programming, and school wasn't happening, which just made things more stressful for the younger audiences.
  • PBS likes to stand apart from its American brethren by averting this trope. It routinely airs its normal programming when the other channels have interrupted theirs. It occasionally preempts regular programming, but not nearly to the extent of the other channels and usually for things of importance to the functioning of the federal government (y'know, the entity that kinda owns the network) like congressional hearings and impeachment trialsnote . It's only the really big events that force an interruption, and even then for odd reasons; for instance, on 9/11 the local New York affiliate was knocked off the air because its transmitter happened to be on top of the World Trade Center, and during the Covid pandemic, some PBS children's programming was pre-empted for educational children's programming as a way to fill in for the closed schools. In some cases some (but not all) stations will break into programming for the death of someone important, but it will either be a huge deal (e.g. Queen Elizabeth II) or related to the network itself (e.g. Fred Rogers).
    • This is due at least in part to PBS' decentralized operations. While there is a default national feed to air, the local stations are the ones who can pick and choose which PBS programming to show on any given day — often there'll be local programming mixed in, along with shows from American Public Television or other companies outside of the PBS distribution system (including imports from Britain). Ergo, running special reports is reserved largely for the biggest of news stories, as the PBS NewsHour is usually responsible for them; the NewsHour staff is only responsible for one show, as opposed to an entire news organization akin to the Big 3 or cable networks (while other news and current affairs shows run on PBS like Frontline and Washington Week, these shows are all produced separately by different PBS member stations and/or outside companies), meaning it wouldn't be very practical or economical for a production crew that generally only produces one newscast a day to broadcast special reports designed to pre-empt normal programming at any time.
  • A presidential inauguration always preempts normal programming, even on PBS. It only happens once every four years, so it's usually a pretty big event.
  • In America, sports events are never preempted, and it's actually the law, entirely because of one event from The '60s known as the "Heidi Game". It was an AFL game between the Oakland Raiders and the New York Jets that was running long; NBC decided to preempt the last few minutes so as to allow the next program to start on time, a Made-for-TV Movie of Heidi. They figured that there wasn't much time left and the Jets were up by three points, so nothing super dramatic would happen, right? Except the Raiders conjured up a Miracle Rally, scored two touchdowns, and won the game. (And to add insult to injury, NBC flashed a pop-up showing the score during the movie.) NBC got a deluge of complaints about thisnote , which is why nothing like this has ever happened since then — not even on cable. If the other broadcast is sufficiently important, they'll delay it rather than preempt itnote . They won't even break for news; one of the commentators usually announces it during the game (e.g. the famous announcement on Monday Night Football of the assassination of John Lennon).
  • Totalitarian regimes control the news and don't especially like to break bad news. The trend is to interrupt programming and start playing nonstop classical music, partly to give the viewer time to prepare themselves for bad news and partly to give themselves time to work out exactly what to say.
    • In Nazi Germany, state radio replaced all regular programming with Anton Bruckner's Seventh Symphony before announcing the catastrophic defeat at Stalingrad.
    • The Soviet Union liked to do this; Soviet viewers were conditioned, upon hearing classical music from the TV and radio, to understand that something really bad had just happened. After Chernobyl, the radio played classical music for two days straight until the official announcement was prepared. During the August Coup in 1991, Soviet television played Swan Lake on repeat. The impulse was so strong that even after the fall of the Soviet Union, Russian news stations would still do this, often as a sort of editorial statement; for instance, Swan Lake was played in this fashion by independent Russian TV station TV Rain after Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine, in protest, right before they were taken off the air by the Kremlin.
    • In her autobiography about surviving the Rwandan genocide, Esther Mujawayo wrote that she associated classical music with political upheaval because the national radio network used this music each time a coup occurred.
  • In Japan, the vast majority of the TV channels are part of big conglomerates, so they don't interrupt their programming so much as direct the viewer to a 24-hour news channel owned by the same conglomerate. They do this with banners called "telops", which often include a brief description of what just happened. Sometimes the interruption really is important, other times it's quite inane (e.g. Fuji TV announcing that Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba had become the highest-grossing film of all time in Japan). A few are particularly notable:
    • In 2016, the Aikatsu! anime was interrupted with a telop announcing the start of retired baseball player Kazuhiro Kiyohara's trial for drug possession. Several parents complained of children upset by the news (especially give the highly taboo state of recreational drug use in Japan). Also complaining were the show's adult fanbase and the director himself.
    • TV Tokyo is known for its extensive use of telops, which have a bizarre tendency to coincidentally relate to whatever is being shown on TV at the time. For example, an announcement of the 2004 Niigata earthquake happened to be shown during a travel program about the region. Observers have called it "the Legend of TV Tokyo".
    • NTV also makes use of telops a lot, but doesn't have as much luck compared to TV Tokyo when it comes to aligning with the theme of the show that's airing at the moment. Most infamously, in 2006, they interrupted Shoten (which is supposed to be a comedy show) with a telop announcing finding the body of a 11yo boy who had gone missing the month before. (The telop can be seen here at the 9:42 mark)
    • The NHK Plus print of the second episode of Love Live! Superstar!! retains an earthquake warning that occurs halfway through the episode — which is odd, as most programs (on this and other streaming services in Japan) will remove such warnings before putting them up.
    • The only real exceptions where they will actually interrupt programming are big news events, usually natural disasters (e.g. the 1995 Kobe earthquake, the 2011 Tohoku earthquake) or the deaths of important people (e.g. the death of Emperor Hirohito in 1989, the assassination of ex-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2022). But even then, the kids' shows (and for whatever reason there are many in Japan) will continue airing so as not to expose the younger audience to alarming news stories. After the Tohoku earthquake, it took Japanese networks as long as a week to resume normal programming — and when it came back, all advertising was pulled and replaced with public service announcements. The public hated it and asked for the commercials back, particularly because the government didn't have a wide range of these ads so the same ones kept repeating ad nauseam.
  • Globo tends to use it for celebrity deaths, disasters and such, with a rare good news edition being the ones regarding approval and arrival of the COVID vaccine. Brazil widely considers the breaking news broadcasts' intense opening fanfare to be an indicator that something terrible has happened or is about to happen.

    Anime & Manga 

    Film — Animation 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Outrage ensued from angry parents on social media when NBC interrupted their airing of an American Girl film in favor of a news report on the Trayvon Martin case.
  • This happened twice during the annual airings of The Wizard of Oz in the United States:
    • The February 24, 1974 airing on NBC got interrupted by a special report on the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, delaying the movie by a half-hour.
    • The February 24, 1988 airing on CBS was interrupted for a Special Report on a presidental conference, delaying the start time by an hour and a half.

    Music 
  • On July 20, 1969, a young singer-songwriter named James Taylor was performing a set at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island, and had just finished playing his newly written song "Fire and Rain", when organizers stopped the festival to announce to the crowd that the Apollo 11 astronauts had landed on the moon. Taylor never got to finish his set because the festival instead showed the historic live broadcast of Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon. The 1969 festival was also the last in Rhode Island until the mid-80s, and Taylor didn't return to the festival until 1997. In 2015, Taylor performed an unannounced half-an-hour surprise set at the folk festival that he described on-stage as his make-up for his shortened 1969 set.
  • On December 8, 1980, during a concert in Oakland, California, Stevie Wonder announced that John Lennon had been assassinated, to much shock from the audience.

    Radio 
  • Extant clips circulate of a pro football game and a New York Philharmonic concert, respectively, getting interrupted by news reports about the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
  • WGBH's (Boston, MA) live broadcast of a Boston Symphony concert during the shooting of John F. Kennedy was unique in that the conductor, Erich Leinsdorf, broke the news of the assassination himself, instead of WGBH's reporters. After making the announcement to a shocked audience, he and the orchestra played Beethoven's Funeral March.
    • Various audio records of radio stations' initial news bulletins about the assassination exist online. Some who were on the air at the time later recalled that they thought someone was playing a sick joke until they realized it was real and started either continuous news coverage (if the station was a network affiliate) or instrumental or religious music interspersed with news bulletins (if the station was an independent). In Dallas itself, KLIF, a leading, top-rated popular music station, interrupted the song "I Have a Boyfriend" by The Chiffons to report only that shots had been fired at JFK's motorcade, with no word on any injuries. As did most stations, KLIF, after airing its initial reports, then returned to normal programming as the newsroom waited for further bulletins to come in.
  • On February 20, 1971, an Air Force employee tried to send out a Emergency Broadcast System communications test, but accidentally sent out the wrong code, being one that meant there would be a national emergency. All radio stations were supposed to interrupt their usual programs for an emergency alert. Three stations are known to have actually taken the alert seriously before realizing the error:
    • WOWO in Fort Wayne, Indiana interrupted a block of music, cutting off during The Partridge Family's "Doesn't Somebody Want to Be Wanted". The staff initially did not know what was going on, but eventually learned of and then announced the mistake.
    • WCCO in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota initially played their EBS White Card audio, but cut it off at some point, and then staff from the station could be heard conversing about the mistake.
    • WNTH, the student radio station of New Trier Township High School [East] in Winnetka, Illinois, went off the air and waited for a code they were supposed to receive under the circumstances. It took some hours before they finally received information that the alert had been a mistake and that they should resume broadcasting.
  • In the Congo-Léopoldville, on September 5, 1960, an English lesson on the national radio network was interrupted by official announcement from Prime Minister Lumumba and President Kasa-Vubu dismissing each other.
  • The February 17, 2021 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show opened with Rush's wife announcing that he had passed away that morning from cancer.
  • The IRN radio stations in the UK broke into their normal programming on the day Princess Diana died, broadcasting light instrumental music and ten minute announcements, with extended news bulletins on the hour and half-hour. London's Capital Radio (95.8 FM and Gold 1548) dropped out of the IRN coverage due to the feed coming in over a poor quality telephone connection (complete with beeps over the music), and instead broadcast a combined programme of light classical music with Howard Hughes announcing every ten minutes.
  • About two minutes after the first airplane impact on 9/11, AM news station WCBS in New York went to a regularly scheduled traffic update from its helicopter reporter Tom Kaminski, who instead filed the first radio report of the attack.

    Stand Up Comedy 
  • Jeff Foxworthy discussed this in one of his standup routines when describing television when he was a kid.
    "We had three channels and that was IT! And if the president was on TV, your night was shot! Us kids would be cryin' 'THE PRESIDENT'S ON!! HE'S ON EVERY CHANNEEEELLLL!!'"

    Theatre 
  • Concert example: the Aqours World Love Live: Brand New Wave concert was interrupted after "Brightest Melody" to inform the audience of the 7.1 Ridgecrest earthquake and how the show was taking a break to check for damage from it.

    Web Original 
  • Rooster Teeth did this twice, using the news recap show "The Know-It-All" to reveal Monty Oum's hospitalization (and that there would be no videos from Rooster Teeth that weekend), then using "The Know" a few days later to reveal of his passing, again stating that there would be no videos because of it.

    Western Animation 
  • During an airing of Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown, a news report on the death of Whitney Houston interrupted the program.
  • Nickelodeon, as well as most Viacom networks, interrupted a re-run of the PAW Patrol episode "Pups Save A Baby Humdinger/Pups Save A Pinata" on March 14, 2018 to go off-air in support of the National Walk-Out that day.
  • The first airing of Rugrats on CBS's Nickelodeon-themed Saturday Morning Cartoon block (the episode in question was "Finsterella") was interrupted on some stations halfway through for breaking news about the Space Shuttle Columbia explosion. Dan Rather began the report by telling viewers watching to please grab an adult. Some stations did air the episode as originally planned.
  • One rerun of the Horseland episode "The Can-Do Kid" was interrupted by a CBS News discussion on the death of Osama Bin Laden.
  • ABC Kids:
    • Towards the end of a broadcast of The Proud Family on ABC Kids, an ABC News Special Report on Hurricane Charley interrupted the end of show. This is to the point George Stephanopoulos actually tells the children watching to get their parents to come into the room because of the subject matter of the report (it probably didn't work, as most kids probably changed the channel in anger). After the Special Report ended, the network joined Power Rangers: Dino Thunder already in progress.
    • The final broadcast day of the block was not seen on the East Coast of the United States due to news coverage of Hurricane Irene pre-empting the entire block that day.
    • On February 1, 2003 an episode of Fillmore! was interrupted midway through by a Special report on the explosion of the Space Shuttle Columbia, with George Stephanopoulos once again informing children watching to get a parent into the room.
    • This happened for weeks on ABC Kids during the 2008 election, usually during The Emperor's New School and The Replacements. These shows would usually be interrupted at random points for news coverage on the election.
  • On April 1, 1980, an airing of Daffy Duck's Easter Special on NBC was interrupted by a NBC News Special Report regarding that year's presidential election cycle. According to the comments section, some kids weren't pleased.
  • On November 25, 1986, the CBS broadcast of "Bugs Bunny's Thanksgiving Diet" was preempted for a half-hour special report on Iran-Contra, "The White House in Turmoil". The previously scheduled airing of "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" went on as scheduled.
  • On November 15 and 19th, 2019, an hour of PBS Kids programming on PBS stations nationwide was pre-empted for coverage of Donald Trump's impeachment trial. This was not the first time it had happened: in the mid-'90s, coverage of congressional hearings interrupted most of the block, causing some affiliates to air it at the end of the day.
    • The second part of the same impeachment trial, occurring from January 2123, 2020, interrupted 5 hours' worth of PBS programming, including several PBS Kids shows, with Curious George, Odd Squad, Dinosaur Train, Nature Cat, Cyberchase and Molly of Denali not airing that day on many PBS stations. Some affilates, including one in Connecticut, decided to air these programs from 5 to 9 PM (with a break for The PBS NewsHour in between the first hour and the last three hours) following the trial.
  • A presidential address by Barack Obama pre-empted ABC's original December 1, 2009 airdate for Prep & Landing. As a result, the special was rescheduled to air a week later in the slot that the annual 1-hour presentation of A Charlie Brown Christmas held, which resulted in the latter event being canceled for the year.
  • This has happened to One Saturday Morning at least three times:
    • The block's premiere was originally intended for September 6, 1997, but it got pre-empted for coverage of Princess Diana's funeral across all broadcast TV channels, which in turn also pre-empted the premieres of The Weird Al Show and Wheel 2000 on the then-new Think CBS Kids block and The Legend of Calamity Jane on Kids' WB!.
    • The December 19, 1998 airing, which notably contained the Christmas Episode of Recess, was pre-empted by the news that President Bill Clinton had been impeached by the U.S. House.
    • The April 22, 2000 airing was pre-empted by coverage of the raid on the Florida home where Elian Gonzalez was being held by his father.
  • December 19, 1998 was also, at the time, the one and only time Donkey Kong Country aired on Fox Kids, but it was also the day of Bill Clinton's impeachment. Because of that, especially on DC stations, only about five minutes of the show aired.
  • Upon Princess Diana's death in 1997, one British broadcast of the Alfred J. Kwak episode "The Snowman" had the text "For a major announcement please turn to BBC News" on the bottom of the screen.
  • A December 1993 broadcast of the DuckTales episode "A Whale of a Bad Time" in Hungary was cut to announce the death of the then-serving prime minister. The event confused children across the country and became a defining generational moment — they were eventually dubbed the "DuckTales Generation" and became the focus of numerous articles and cultural analyses.
  • On April 19, 1995, the Fox Kids afternoon block (with the Animaniacs episode "Hitchcock Opening; Hearts Of Twilight; The Boids" in progress) was interrupted with President Clinton's address to the country about the Oklahoma City bombing.
  • Similarly, the May 6, 1995 airing of Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? on Fox Kids was pre-empted for Talkin' It Out With John Walsh, a special about the Oklahoma City bombing.
  • During the premiere of the Futurama episode "War is the H-Word" on FOX, some affiliates on the East Coast cut off the last part of the episode due to a news report about the 2000 presidential election. Inconveniently, this was right after we learn that Farnsworth couldn't disarm the bomb that would destroy the entire world if Bender says "ass", then Bender says, "What's the point of living if I can't say 'ass'? Uh oh..." leaving the fate of the world unknown at the time the episode aired.
  • On June 2, 2020, Nickelodeon and Nick Jr. interrupted re-runs of The Casagrandes and PAW Patrol to show the Kids' Bill of Rights for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. However, an hour before this, a screen with the text "I Can't Breathe" (which was meant to air on other Viacom networks) accidentally aired for a few seconds before a rerun of The Loud House and a new episode of Hey Duggee.
  • Thirteen minutes into a local broadcast of The Woody Woodpecker Show on September 18, 2001 on WTTG in Washington D.C., the show was interrupted for a White House address on the events of September 11th that lasted for nine minutes before the show resumed.
  • On March 20, 2021, a repeat of the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Eek, An Urchin!" on NHK E-Tele got interrupted for news of a major earthquake in Miyagi prefecture.
    • Similarly, an airing of The Boss Baby: Back in Business episode "Monster Machine" on the same network got interrupted for news of another earthquake in Miyagi prefecture on May 1, 2021.
    • This would happen to SpongeBob again on January 15, 2022 on NHK E-Tele, this time during the episode "Sandy's Nutty Nieces", with the news story in question being the eruption of a volcano in Tonga that lead to tsunami warnings being issued.
  • On April 20, 1999, the premiere of the King of the Hill episode "Revenge of the Lutefisk" was pre-empted in Denver by local coverage of the Columbine massacre. As a result of this association, the episode was banned from rerunning in the area for a while after the incident.
  • In the UK, Channel 5 broke into their children's programming to announce the death of Princess Diana.
  • In 1985, an airing of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on WCAU-TV was interrupted during a commercial break for a special report about a suspect in a mall shooting being arrested.
  • On December 2, 2021, airings of Olaf's Frozen Adventure and Toy Story That Time Forgot were preempted for an ABC News special on the Alec Baldwin shooting incident on the set of the movie Rust.

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