"When we came out the other end of that Monday, there had been a sense that the possibilities and capabilities of live TV news coverage had explored and the parameters had been established in ways that I don't think people knew they were capable of doing," Thompson says. Counting its radio and TV divisions, which were often working in conjunction anyway, CBS used 600 employees over the weekend, ABC 500 and NBC 400, and the total cost of the four-day broadcast on TV and radio has been estimated at $30 million to 35 million, according to Mayo, or more than $225 million today .
With many workplaces closed Friday afternoon once the news broke and Monday proclaimed a national day of mourning, Americans were a captive TV audience. According to Nielsen, 93 percent of U.S. homes watched ABC's, NBC's or CBS's coverage of the assassination – more than half of them for 13 or more straight hours.
When the White House hosted a reception for the viewing of Kennedy's body, viewers caught a glimpse of national and international dignitaries, including former Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. While CBS and ABC aired the procession of Kenendy's body from the White House to the Capitol that Sunday, those watching NBC saw Jack Ruby shoot suspect Lee Harvey Oswald live on air as Oswald was being transferred to a more media-friendly facility. Ruby got close enough to shoot Oswald by sneaking in with the press scrum, and the ACLU accused the Dallas police of "capitulation to the glare of publicity," arguing that the decision to publicly move Oswald to a new facility at the behest of the media cost Oswald right to a fair trial as well as his life. It was also a nationally televised moment that rocked an already vulnerable nation.
"As that story unfolds the fact that there was yet another shocked assassination, yet another murder, gave you the sense by Sunday night that you couldn't quit watching TV because you didn't know what was going to happen," Thompson says. "This whole thing seemed to be spinning out of control."
The chaos of Oswald's shooting was followed up by the pomp and pageantry of Kennedy's funeral that Monday, with a procession that started at the Capitol and continued to St. Matthew's Cathedral and finally to Arlington Cemetery, culminating in the lighting of the eternal flame.
"The ritual of that funeral, which I think was very important for Americans to go through, and it was so communal, it was really breathtaking in how it was shot," Thompson says.
Monday evening marked the end of the assassinations broadcasting, a deluge of coverage the country would not see again until the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The TV industry has since seen great fragmentation, including the rise of cable news stations which often lead the charge on uninterrupted news coverage. Recently, the networks have broken in for coverage of major stories like the Boston Marathon bombing or the Newtown school shooting, but only for a few hours at a time. The television industry as greatly refined and expanded its abilities to deliver big and breaking stories, but with competition from the Internet and social media, it will unlikely ever again hold a nation's attention the way it did that November weekend in 1963.