Convention Coverage Runs the Gamut

Aug 17, 2008  •  Post A Comment

It’s politics-palooza time as the Democrats and Republicans prepare to descend on Denver and St. Paul, Minn., for back-to-back nominating conventions at which the media outnumbers delegates.
Democratic Convention in 2000
In the spirit of public service, TelevisionWeek breaks down, in alphabetical order, the most significant national outlets’ convention coverage plans and what each thinks will distinguish theirs from their competitors’ efforts.
It’s not always possible to filter out spin, but sometimes spin is reality.
Not included are such other sources of political coverage as “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” which recently launched a rocket-fueled promotional blitz that hammers home the message, “This election season you’re not just choosing a president, you’re choosing an election team that tells you who to choose for president. Don’t settle for their overpromising graphics and underperforming anchors when you can settle for “The Best F*&#ing News Team Ever!”
Perhaps in the spirit of “Indecision 2008,” “The Daily Show” will be at the conventions, but it won’t be live.
Likewise, HDNet will not be presenting extended coverage, but Dan Rather will be at both conventions and will present two in-depth stories about issues related to each gathering on “Dan Rather Reports.” The subject is race at the Democratic convention; volunteer service is the topic for the program from the Republican convention.
We invite you to take a deep breath and begin reading.
Diane Sawyer, Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos
Network: ABC
Telecast schedule: 10-11 p.m. EDT Monday through Thursday nights at both conventions, with all daily news programs originating from the convention cities. “This Week” is in Denver Aug. 24 and St. Paul Aug. 31.
Anchors and analysts: Charles Gibson, Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos co-anchor the prime-time coverage. Terry Moran anchors “Nightline” in Denver, while Cynthia McFadden anchors in St. Paul. George Will, Donna Brazile and Matthew Dowd are the headliner analysts.
Distinguishing characteristics: “Nightline” will offer flexibility the other broadcast networks don’t have without preempting late-night comedy originals or reruns. “No other broadcast network is going to have the time to put the coverage in the proper perspective,” said Marc Burstein, executive producer of special events for ABC News. Mr. Burstein also believes the triple-anchor team will catch grazing viewers’ eyes. There’s a good chance ABC News’ first all-in-HD convention coverage will, as well.
Click here for a quick fix: Those who want live gavel-to-gavel coverage of the prime-time convention doings can get it, co-anchored by Sam Donaldson and “The Note” co-author Rick Klein, from 6-11 p.m. each night at www.abcnewsnow.com or access it through www.abcnews.com. The ABC News Now digital network also is available to some 44 million subscribers to cable, broadband and mobile platforms. Visitors to either Web address also will find a number of new and updated interactive features.
Matt Frei
Network: BBC America
Telecast schedule: 7-8 p.m. EDT and 10-11 p.m. EDT live on convention nights from the respective convention halls in Denver and St. Paul.
Anchors and analysts: “BBC World News America’s” anchor Matt Frei anchors. Washington correspondent Katty Kay reports. Contributing analysis in Denver will be former “Nightline” anchor Ted Koppel. Handling that responsibility in St. Paul will be Time magazine’s Mike Duffy.
Distinguishing characteristics: Aside from Mr. Koppel, a veritable news icon, there will be the British accents. Executive producer Rome Hartman aims for a tone that’s “always impartial, but never dull or wonky.”
Click here for a quick fix: Further coverage will be available at www.bbc.com/worldnewsamerica.
Katie Couric
Network: CBS
Telecast schedule: 10-11 p.m. Monday through Thursday at both conventions. “Face the Nation With Bob Schieffer” will originate from Denver Aug. 24 and from St. Paul Aug. 31. “The Early Show” will have co-anchor Harry Smith in Denver and co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez in St. Paul each convention day.
Anchors and analysts: Katie Couric will anchor “Evening News” from the convention cities as well as the prime-time coverage, where she will be flanked by Mr. Schieffer and senior political correspondent Jeff Greenfield. Former Bush White House spokesman Dan Bartlett, just signed last week, will be among the contributors of analysis.
Distinguishing characteristics: “I think we’re giving people things that I’ll bet you they want. That’s purely why we’re doing it,” said “Evening News” executive producer Rick Kaplan, who was president of MSNBC before he arrived at CBS. “There’s a point at which you sit there and go, ‘Television can be important and can be meaningful and it doesn’t always have to be about an argument.’” Among the things Mr. Kaplan thinks people want: features from national correspondents Byron Pitts (in Denver) and Nancy Cordes (in St. Paul). Mr. Kaplan declines to divulge topics for competitive reasons. All CBS coverage will be in high definition.
Click here for a quick fix: Ms. Couric will anchor live Web-exclusive specials on www.cbsnews.com and on www.cnet.com immediately following the network’s broadcast coverage each night—a first for CBS News, which reaches upwards of 18 million people monthly between the two Web platforms. The specials, which are scheduled to last 15 to 30 minutes, will feature interviews, a live round-table discussion with CBS experts and guests, peeks behind the scenes throughout the day and answers to some viewer questions. Also on cbsnews.com will be breaking news and inside stories in text and Web-exclusive video, as well as blogs from both conventions and live gavel-to-gavel streaming video coverage of all events. Among the archived content will be all convention speeches.
Anderson Cooper
Network: CNN
Telecast schedule: From 6 a.m. EDT, when “American Morning” starts each convention day in both cities, through New York-based daytime convention programming until the “The Situation Room” kicks off the evening’s coverage at 4 p.m. EDT.
Anchors and analysts: Wolf Blitzer, Campbell Brown and Anderson Cooper are the lead anchors. John Roberts will co-anchor “American Morning” from the conventions. Larry King wraps up each convention day at midnight. Among the political contributors is Washington Post writer Dana Milbank, who recently jumped from MSNBC in a cloud of huffing from “Countdown’s” Keith Olbermann.
Raising the bar and grill: The first-of-its-kind CNN Grill debuted at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City. This year, Big Apple restaurateur extraordinaire Danny Meyer has developed the menus for the CNN Grills that will take over eateries just outside the delegate entrances in Denver and St. Paul. In addition to food, and an exclusive CNN beer created by Breckenridge Brew, the grills will offer a camera-ready setting for political talk, some of which may end up on-air or online. The hours in Denver, where CNN’s workspace is just upstairs, are 3 p.m. until… local time and 4 p.m. until …. local time in St. Paul.
Distinguishing characteristics: It’s all in high definition, starting with new high-def cameras being rolled out in Denver. David Bohrman, executive producer of political coverage and Washington bureau chief, is creating a plethora of broadcast platforms in both convention cities, but his anchors will be at delegate level instead of “lording over [the activity] from a hermetically sealed sky booth.” Mr. Bohrman himself will be orchestrating coverage from the CNN control room in New York City, where additional analysts will be situated. John King will be operating at a smaller version of CNN’s so-called “Magic Wall” in Denver and St. Paul.
Click here for a quick fix: At www.cnn.com and www.cnnpolitics.com, users will find live streaming coverage from inside the convention halls and from the CNN Grills, in addition to live reporting and behind-the-scenes color.
CSPAN Convention Coverage 2004
Network: C-SPAN
Telecast schedule: All convention (or related) all the time from 7 a.m. EDT to midnight or 1 a.m. At night, it will be gavel-to-gavel coverage of what’s happening on the podium.
Anchors and analysts: No and no.
Distinguishing characteristics: As always, no talking heads will compete with any speeches, votes or activity at the podium. “I think it’s safe to say we will have the most complete coverage,” said political editor Steve Scully. He is deploying small, sometimes wireless, cameras as part of C-SPAN’s aim to present a “delegate’s eye-view” of the activities inside and outside the convention centers. There will be explanatory Chyrons as needed, but Mr. Scully promises no graphics “clutter.” While C-SPAN does not collect ratings information, it does know from previous research that 96% of its convention viewers vote in the presidential elections.
Click here for a quick fix: The network’s Web site, www.c-span.org/politics, will offer a broad array of streaming convention and related video coverage and an archive of speeches from conventions as far back as 1948.
Brit Hume
Network: Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network
Telecast schedule: The channel’s signature shows—from “Fox & Friends” at 6 a.m. EDT through Shepard Smith’s two shows and throughout the extended evening lineup of regularly scheduled programs—will originate live from both convention cities on Democratic and Republican convention nights. Mr. Business, Neil Cavuto, will be doing double duty, with “Your World” on FNC at its usual time and “Cavuto” on sister channel Fox Business Network at 6 p.m. with a live opening segment added for its 9 p.m. repeat.
Raising the bar and grill: In Denver, Fox programming will originate from Brauns Bar & Grill, across the street from the Pepsi Center. In St. Paul, Fox’s point of origin will be a large, custom-built tent across from the Xcel Energy Center. The channel is billing it all as “The Fox Experience.”
Distinguishing characteristics: Former White House adviser Karl Rove and former Hillary Clinton campaign adviser Howard Wolfson are the star contributors of commentary. Neither is shy. Also, although Fox has not confirmed it, there have been reports that this begins Mr. Hume’s prolonged last hurrah as a full-time Fox staffer.
Click here for a quick fix: The centerpiece of online coverage at www.foxnews.com will be “The Strategy Room,” with a rotating lineup of anchors and contributors and prominent political guests throughout each day. Additional streaming channels will feature nontraditional behind-the-scenes coverage of both conventions and interactive user/viewer-driven content.
Brian Williams
Networks: NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo
Telecast schedules: 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday on NBC from both conventions. MSNBC starts 20-hour days with “Morning Joe” at 6 a.m. and continues through 2 a.m. Chief Washington correspondent John Harwood reports from Denver and St. Paul for CNBC throughout the convention days.
Anchors and analysts: Brian Williams anchors NBC’s prime-time coverage (and “Nightly News” from the respective convention cities both weeks starting Aug. 24 and Aug. 31). Matt Lauer co-anchors “Today” from Denver and Meredith Vieira co-anchors the morning show from St. Paul. “Hardball’s” Chris Matthews and “Countdown’s” Keith Olbermann co-anchor MSNBC’s prime-time coverage starting at 7 p.m. Augmenting the news channel’s opinionated show hosts will be a panel of familiar faces ranging from Rachael Maddow to Harold Ford Jr. Telemundo News anchor Pedro Sevcec will report live from both conventions on “Noticiero Telemundo,” at 6:30 p.m. EDT, as will Washington-based correspondent Lori Montenegro from the Democratic convention and Los Angeles-based correspondent Carlos Botifol from the Republican convention.
Raising the bar and grill: While MSNBC’s prime anchor location will be against the backdrop of picturesque Union Station in Denver and Rice Park in St. Paul, “Morning Joe” will be served up from Sam’s No. 3 Grill & Bar in Denver, and from Keys St. Café in St. Paul.
Distinguishing characteristics: Luke Russert, the look-alike son of the late Tim Russert, will be contributing reports on youth issues. Phil Alongi, the executive producer of news specials, said the Russert scion’s hiring harks all the way back to “Today’s” use in the early ’90s of Tabitha Soren, who first rocked the vote for MTV. As for the populous team(s) representing NBC News and MSNBC, Mr. Alongi said, “We’re going all out. We’re bringing NBC News to the convention cities.” With so deep a bench, Mr. Alongi said, NBC News doesn’t need any ‘whiz-bang” technology, although it will be broadcasting in HD.
Click here for a quick fix: Gavel-to-gavel coverage will be found at www.msnbc.com, which also will offer multimedia features. Telemundo’s convention teams will be blogging at www.yahootelemundo.com.
Jim Lehrer
Network: PBS
Telecast schedule: 8-11 p.m. EDT (or through the close of convention activities) Monday through Thursday from both Denver and St. Paul.
Anchors and analysts: Anchor Jim Lehrer leads the “NewsHour” team providing news from the convention floors by Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill, with analysis from Mark Shields and David Brooks, as well as panels to be moderated by Margaret Warner and Ray Suarez.
Distinguishing characteristics: Mr. Lehrer bills his team’s uninterrupted convention coverage as “one-stop shopping” and its tone as a “happy medium” between the anchor-free C-SPAN production and anchor-driven commercial networks’ offerings. Speeches will be covered in their entirety, with context, opinion, analysis and history offered between events at the podium. “You don’t have to click back and forth, you don’t have to watch gavel-to-gavel and then go back to where they’re yelling and screaming or whatever,” the anchor said.
Click here for a quick fix: “Everything we do on the program will have a plus to it,” Mr. Lehrer said. Find a variety of pluses at www.pbs.org/newshour/vote2008/. Mr. Suarez will anchor “The Online NewsHour” coverage and a 2 p.m. daily convention summary. The Web site also will offer Twitter and Flickr live quotes, reactions, photos and updates from behind the scenes at the “NewsHour” editorial operations, as well as from convention-related events.
Eric Dyson of TVOne
Network: TV One
Telecast schedule: 8-11 p.m. each night of the Democratic convention, starting earlier depending on the scheduling of speeches. No coverage will be offered of the Republicans in St. Paul because it is deemed lacking the same import for TV One’s African American core audience.
Anchors and analysts: Radio host Joe Madison and Comcast Network show host Arthur Fennell will co-anchor. TV and radio veteran Jacque Reid and the husband-and-wife team of Rev. Marcia and Michael Eric Dyson will co-host “TV One Live: DNC Afterparty” following the convention block.
Distinguishing characteristics: The coverage will be presented from an African American cultural perspective but “It’s not going to be a complete lovefest,” said a representative. “There will be a lot of different perspectives.” Among those scheduled to be heard from: the Rev. Al Sharpton, actor Hill Harper and comedian Sherry Underwood, a Republican who nonetheless intends to vote for Sen. Barack Obama. Ms. Dyson was a strong supporter of Sen. Hillary Clinton and her husband has taken public issue with Sen. Obama on some topics. On the lighter side: The Celebrity Snitch from the “Tom Joyner Morning Show” also will phone in celebrity gossip and reports from around the convention’s official and unofficial events.
Click here for a quick fix: There will be a microsite housed at www.tvoneonline.com, where the offerings will include a Blog Log linking to registered bloggers, Jim Izreal’s Primary Colors blog, text messages and e-mails from convention delegates and the public, as well as extended “Afterparty” video coverage.
Network: Univision
Telecast schedule: The Spanish-language network will begin convention updates each day with its morning show, “Despierta America,” and continue through prime time. On Thursday night of both conventions, Univision will carry the acceptance speeches live and then return to its entertainment programming. Each convention night, “Noticiero Univision” and special editions of the late-night newscast “Noticiero Univision: Ultima Hora” will originate from inside the convention centers.
Distinguishing characteristics: The language, of course, and the focus on issues of particular relevance to the network’s Hispanic audience in addition to issues of broader interest.
Click here for a quick fix: The Destino 2008 page at www.univision.com is a microsite that features interviews with party leaders and Hispanic superdelegates, as well as access to blogs from the convention sites.
(11 a.m.: Updated “Nightline” airing at regular time, length)

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