What if an event of historic, international proportions happened and nobody watched?

Stick around for a week or so, we may just find out.

While network TV news anchors from Peter to Tom to Bernard are busy deplaning with crews and equipment on the shores of Hong Kong to cover the colony's July 1 transition from British to Chinese rule, the audience back home is likely to greet the fanfare with a flat, "So what? ... And, hey, this isn't going to interrupt my soaps, is it?"

"I think if you asked 100 people in the United States about Hong Kong," says Michael L. McKean, associate professor of journalism at the University of Missouri at Columbia, "you'd probably get 75 who'd have no idea."

Still, TV news forges ahead--feeling both charged with the responsibility to educate, and the challenge not to bore.

"This is a golden opportunity for us to look at U.S./Chinese competition in Asia, and it's a chance for us to ask Americans again: What's important for you in China?" says ABC News anchor Peter Jennings.

Jennings' World News Tonight will originate from Hong Kong on June 30 and July 1. NBC's Tom Brokaw left for the region Friday. Also due there: CBS's Dan Rather, CNN's Bernard Shaw and Fox News Channel's Linda Duberley. CNN, alone, is sending a team of 60 people to the tiny island already jam-packed with more than 6 million residents.

Its armies in place, network news--particularly the broadcasters (ABC, CBS, NBC)--now must tread carefully. Hong Kong ain't no O.J. trial. It is (to some) a remote and archaic-sounding matter of foreign policy. Wall-to-wall coverage could be recipe for ratings suicide.

"I think it's a great story to tell, but people don't have any illusions of American's interest in it," says NBC News spokeswoman Julia Moffett.

At NBC, the delicate art of informing the public, while appeasing the almighty Nielsen ratings, will be handled, in part, by sloughing off continuous live coverage of the changeover on June 30-July 1 to its cable outlet, MSNBC. NBC will also offer the live feed, but local stations can pick and choose how much they want to carry.

If Americans' general disinterest wasn't a big enough obstacle for the broadcasters to overcome, there's also the matter of time zone. Hong Kong is 12 hours ahead of the Eastern United States; 9 hours of West Coasters. That means when Hong Kong's governor departs his official residence on June 30, it'll be 4 a.m. in New York; 1 a.m. Los Angeles time--not exactly primetime.

Hong Kong may be history, but it's gonna have nothing on Seinfeld.

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