LOS ANGELES—With less than 72 hours to go before what many are calling the television event of October, if not the year, businesses, schools and government buildings across the U.S. are closing in preparation for the long-awaited season premiere of Just Us.

Just Us Baby Episode

Arguably the most special U.S. television event since May 1993—when Patel finally chose between Katrina and Shelley on ABC's Where's Patel?—Thursday's Just Us episode is expected to draw more than 200 million Americans to their television sets to witness the historic birth of Nick and Marnie Gelman's first child.

Anticipation among the public is electric. "I've waited all summer for this," said New Canaan, CT, resident Renee Northam, who quit her job at a Hartford insurance firm to focus on preparing for the episode. "This is the television event I do not want to miss."

NBC logo

"To be honest, I don't even normally watch Just Us, but this episode is far too big a television event to pass up," Denver-area shipping clerk Bob Ingram said. "I mean, these television characters are actually going to have a baby. It's absolutely unbelievable."

During the special hour-long broadcast, the nation's economic and civil infrastructure is expected to come to a virtual standstill. All major retail establishments will close, as will 24-hour convenience stores. The nation's police officers, firefighters, paramedics and emergency room technicians have been excused from duty to view both the telecast and the post-episode special edition of Dateline: NBC, which will feature interviews with the Just Us cast, exclusive behind-the-scenes footage of the making of the historic episode, and a special segment on the trials and tribulations of being a first-time parent.

"I thought nothing could top the 1995 Just Us episode in which Nick and Marnie almost split up after Nick kissed a co-worker," U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said. "But I was wrong."

Adding to the nationwide frenzy is the still-unanswered question of what sex the Gelmans' baby will be. While recent polls indicate that the American public is split 53-47 in favor of a boy, both sides may be correct: A story in Monday's New York Times quotes an anonymous NBC source who claims that the couple will be having twins. NBC officials declined comment on the Times report.

"I am not at liberty to say anything specific with regard to the gender of any child and/or children that may be born during Thursday's Just Us broadcast," NBC president Warren Littlefield said. "The only thing I can confirm at this time is that this is, in fact, the episode all of America will be talking about. It's must-see TV."

Though Littlefield would disclose no information about the Gelman baby, he did confirm that the episode's much-touted fantasy sequence featuring Elizabeth Taylor as Marnie's fairy godmother is "hysterical."

To accommodate the enormous interest in the episode among government officials, important affairs of state originally scheduled for Thursday have been postponed, including President Clinton's economic summit with Japanese prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and a key Senate vote on campaign-finance reform.

"I don't think I've been this excited about a very special television event since Freddy, the mentally disabled foster child on Heartland USA, accidentally burned down the Tanners' house playing with matches," U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Fred Thompson (R-TN) said. "America learned a valuable lesson that day."

Thompson said he is sponsoring a bill making the viewing of very special television events mandatory "for purposes of maximum entertainment" and imposing stiff penalties on anyone who violates the "sharing of the warmth."

"What American citizen hasn't memorized the heartwarming chorus of the Just Us theme song; 'Just us / You and I together / Just us / Nobody else matters,' and applied it to their own life at some point?" U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) said. "The adventures—or, should I say, misadventures—of Nick and Marnie Gelman have warmed America's heart for four seasons now, and I for one do not intend to stop having my heart warmed any time soon."