EWTN Following Pope's Health

News late last week that Pope John Paul II was nearing death generated additional interest from cable operators in distributing Catholic network Eternal Word Television Network, officials there said Friday.

EWTN is preparing to ramp up its program schedule for the interregnum, the month-long period that follows the death of a pope and the selection process for a successor, EWTN spokeswoman Susan Wood said.

“We’ve got a lot of things that we have planned in advance, in light of the pontiff’s imminent demise, and the knowledge that this would eventually happen, so we are prepared for that,” Wood said.

EWTN, which subsists on donations, offers its 24-hour network for distribution for cable operators for free. Wood said that news of the pope’s failing health has generated additional interest from operators in distributing the channel.

Officials at Comcast and Time Warner Cable said that their individual systems would decide locally whether or not to add EWTN to their lineups, based on demand and bandwidth availability. Time Warner Cable distributes EWTN to about 8 million homes, and about 6 million Comcast customers have the channel.

If and when the Pope dies, EWTN will immediately switch its programming format, Wood said. Its new lineup will revolve around the life of the Pope, and coverage of the interregnum. Initial coverage will also include many masses, rosaries and events from St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Wood added.

The all-news networks were running wall-to-wall coverage of the Pope’s failing health Friday afternoon, and began sending teams to Rome for live coverage. NBC Today host Matt Lauer made it to the Vatican in time for Friday morning’s broadcast.

Conflicting reports out of Rome on Friday led to some mistakes. The voice of a Fox News Channel producer monitoring the translation of an Italian broadcast at 1:20 p.m. on Friday could be heard as she told staffers that the Pope had passed away. After hearing the producer, anchor Shepard Smith informed viewers that the Pope may have died, but Fox quickly clarified the statement.