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Laments, shrugs for snub of July Fourth event

Off national TV, gala still point of pride

The Hatch Shell was empty on Sunday, but on July Fourth it will be packed with celebrants for a Boston Pops concert and fireworks.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

The Hatch Shell was empty on Sunday, but on July Fourth it will be packed with celebrants for a Boston Pops concert and fireworks.

Manuel and Mariesa Gonzales, 28, are far from their families in Albuquerque, but on July Fourth, the couple enjoy the splendor of Boston’s fireworks at the Esplanade while loved ones watch the festivities on television back home.

“They enjoy seeing what we’re seeing,” said Mariesa, a student at Northeastern University. “They can be with us through what we’re viewing, whether it be sports games or holidays. It’s our way to connect.”

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This summer, however, it will be much harder for those who enjoy Boston’s Independence Day from afar to catch the “Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular.” The show’s ratings have been on the decline, local organizers say, and the CBS Television Network has decided not to renew its contract with producers. So this July, for the first time in more than 20 years, the Pops show on the Charles River Esplanade will appear only locally, on WBZ-TV.

News of the cancellation has many worrying about extra crowding on the already packed waterfront, while others reflect on a lost opportunity to show America a unified and celebratory Boston less than three months after the Boston Marathon bombings.

“The lack of TV coverage might bring some more tourism to the area, and that’s always great,” said Manuel Gonzales, an Air Force recruiter. “But it’s packed enough here [at the Esplanade] as it is. Mariesa and I bring our kayaks and watch on the water, because there’s nowhere to sit on the grass. You have to fight for a blanket-sized square.”

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Organizers estimate that more than half a million people attend the Pops concert at the Edward A. Hatch Memorial Shell each year. It is a world-renowned tradition — fit for a city dubbed the “Cradle of the American Revolution.”

Vicki Wills and Glenda Vuillermin, who were visiting Boston this week from Victoria, Australia, came to the Esplanade specifically to see the Hatch Shell.

“I remember my parents had old records of the Boston Pops they used to play in the house when I was little,” Wills said. “As Australians, we’ve heard of the Pops. It’s a shame people like us won’t be able to see it.”

Vuillermin said that national July Fourth coverage of the Pops would have been a positive way to shift focus away from the Marathon bombings.

CBS “should have covered it this year, if any year,” she said. “This would have been the year to say that Boston counts, that these people and this place counts . . . but maybe it’s about who’s got the money.”

Norron Lee, 72, who has lived in Boston since 1963, recalled a time when you could find a prime spot on the Hatch Shell lawn late into the holiday afternoon. He thinks the CBS cancellation is indeed about the money.

“You can’t make CBS the bad guy. It’s economics to them . . . they have to drop a non-money-maker,” he said.

Local organizer David Mugar told the Globe that NBC’s competing New York City show, the Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks, may have pushed CBS coverage — which airs at the same time — out of the market. And though Bostonians may chafe at the New York coverage, Lee said, the hard feelings are unwarranted.

“Boston’s always trying to be better than New York, and this time New York wins again.”

Hugh Marlow, a Brookline native who now lives in Vermont, has been making the trip to Boston to see the Pops since the 1950s, when Arthur Fiedler was conductor.

Many people who no longer live in the area, he said, look forward to watching the fireworks on television.

“A lot of people don’t live [in Boston] but grew up or went to college here,” he said. “They look back on July Fourth to this place and remember old times.”

Others said that keeping national coverage this year is valuable, even for locals.

“It’s important that our patriotism is seen as a live television event,” said Thomas Rooney, 26, who has come to the Esplanade to see the Pops since he was young. “We want America to see that the city is not afraid to come back together and celebrate — that we are moving on.”

Some however, are pleased about the return to WBZ-TV-only coverage, which retains a local flavor in reporting and airs the full Pops performance instead of cutting to celebrity-focused coverage.

Jim and Patricia Sheehan, 78, have always turned to local stations rather than CBS to catch the July 4 show.

The Pops show “is a glittering TV extravaganza now, but it doesn’t have to be,” Patricia said.

“We’re Boston — we don’t have to be national,” her husband added. “We are who we are.”

Patrick Moscaritolo, the CEO and president of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that while lack of coverage this summer is unfortunate, he does not expect the CBS cancellation to put a long-term dent in tourism, even if the Hatch Shell attracts fewer high-profile celebrities who perform with the Pops for national airtime.

“The Pops are a big part of the Boston brand nationally and internationally, so that mitigates part of the impact,” he said. “It’s not as if we’re moving the Pops to Texas. They’re still here and people will still come to the Hatch Shell.”

But Marlow says he may not be able to make it from Vermont to the Hatch this time around.

“It’s sad, especially with the 617 [area code] pride so strong right now. If they’re showing fireworks in New York, I won’t watch it.”

Alyssa A. Botelho can be reached at alyssa.botelho@
globe.
com. Follow her on Twitter at AlyssaABotelho.
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