The end of the world will be televised

When it launched in 1980, CNN was the first 24-hour news channel in television history. It has been running non-stop since that launch. But what happens if the world ends? Well, CNN plans to go out in style.

When CNN launched in 1980 it was a game-changer for broadcast news. All news, all the time, never stopping, never signing off. This relentless flow of information has probably not done well for anyone’s peace of mind, but it was a bold gambit at the time – and it came with some rather bold promises.

Ted Turner, the founder of CNN, was aware that most American TV stations signed on in the morning and signed off at night with the national anthem. But CNN was designed to sign on just once – on launch day – and never sign off unless the world was coming to an end.

(Or if the station were no longer profitable, of course. But the founder of a new news network was hardly going to talk about that possibility!)

Turner gathered together the marching bands of the US armed forces to perform the anthem for CNN’s launch. You can see the first hour, including that recording, here:

When that recording was made, Turner asked the band to also perform “Nearer My God to Thee.” That hymn was famous, of course, for being played on the Titanic as it sunk. Turner had something else in mind: a Doomsday video. Should the world come to an end in some dramatic fashion, CNN would play the tape as a sign-off – as the first and final sign-off in the station’s history.

Turner told people about the tape but never screened it:

I keep this tape around because when the world ends it’ll be over before we can say what we wanted to say. Before we can leave any final messages.


In 2015, however, an intern at the network found the tape and leaked it online. So, this is it; if the world ends and you happen to be watching CNN, this is what you’ll see:

After the existence of the video was confirmed but before it was leaked, the film Gremlins 2 presented their own parody version. I have to say that I prefer this one:

(Also sorry for coming back to Gremlins 2 so soon after mentioning it in the history of The History of King Lear. What can I say? It’s a cultural touchstone.)

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