Networks look forward to election

The Associated Press
Friday November 03, 2000


NEW YORK — Virtual reality studios, interactive games and 3-D graphics – a presidential election night traditionally lets network news divisions trot out plenty of high-tech gadgetry and stars for prime-time exposure. 

This year grateful TV networks are looking forward to a new wrinkle: an actual competitive race. 

“This has been a banner year for my favorite theory in American politics – the UFO theory, the unforeseen will occur,” NBC’s Tom Brokaw said. “I don’t remember one like this.” 

Brokaw will be the anchor for NBC’s Election Night coverage Tuesday, as he has been since 1976.  

His two chief competitors, ABC’s Peter Jennings and CBS’ Dan Rather, have been ringmasters for their networks since the 1984 election. 

They are all preparing for the possibility of a very late night before the White House race between George W. Bush and Al Gore is decided. 

ABC is experimenting this year with interactive elements. It will try to poll viewers through computer and will even ask people to participate in a political trivia contest. 

“I don’t think there’s any rule that says politics can’t be fun,” said Paul Friedman, executive vice president of ABC News. 

The hot competition for most-watched network is likely to be between ABC and NBC. By one important barometer – evening news ratings – Brokaw has been on top this year, but more viewers watched the presidential debates on ABC. 

With ratings low for many of the year’s big political events, many in television believe the same will be true Election Night.  

An average of 24.9 million homes were tuned in to the returns in 1996, the second-lowest since 1960, according to Nielsen Media Research. 

More ominously, a higher percentage of viewers watched something else on TV other than election returns four years ago than ever before, Nielsen said. 

“The rhythm of the race will dictate to a certain extent what the audience is,” Rather said.  

“If it’s cardiac arrest time for both sides as we head to the Pacific coast, the audience will be quite large.” 

Viewers will have more options to watch returns.  

Fox is covering Election Night for the first time ever, simulcasting with Fox News Channel. Financial commentator Louis Rukeyser anchors CNBC’s coverage, emphasizing how the election affects the economy. PBS coverage begins at 10 p.m. 

It is also the first time three cable news networks will be competing. CNN promises 24 hours of election coverage, starting at 7 a.m. on Tuesday. MSNBC’s coverage will be anchored by Brian Williams. 

The boldest alternative for people who don’t like politics is on USA, which premieres the movie “Chippendales Murder.” 

NBC’s Brokaw is hoping for a night as exciting as 1960 when, as a college sophomore, he stayed up past dawn to see the Kennedy-Nixon returns come in. Watching Chet Huntley and David Brinkley was a pivotal night for him. 

“I had this kind of epiphany that that’s what I wanted to do with my life,” he said. “I wanted to be one of those guys who see the world and cover politics.”