Press Releases

Tight election is ultimate TV

The Associated Press
Wednesday November 08, 2000

NEW YORK — It was the ultimate in reality television for grateful networks Tuesday: a presidential election with the final survivor a true mystery as the night wore on. 

Pundits had been almost wistful in predicting a nailbiter between George W. Bush and Al Gore, then became giddy when it turned out to be the case. 

“Stay with us,” NBC’s Tom Brokaw said with a wide smile. “We’re about to take you on an exciting and bumpy ride.” 

It made for gripping television. The networks spent millions of dollars on polls and vote-gathering efforts in an attempt to find out the results as quickly as possible. Instead, they got something better — old-fashioned suspense. 

An early sign of a tight race came during the network evening news. Anchors usually can be counted on to drop subtle hints from exit poll results about how the night will unfold, but few were forthcoming. 

“At this hour, the presidential race looks jar-lid tight,” Dan Rather said on CBS. 

Rather convened a panel of political experts and asked them to pick a winner at about 6:40 p.m. EDT. Linda DiVall picked Bush, Harrison Hickman guessed Gore and Norm Ornstein took a pass. “I honestly don’t know,” he said. 

Several analysts said their networks were taking time declaring states for either candidate, wanting to make sure exit poll results matched up with actual returns. 

“We’re waiting on a possible decision in Florida, but you’ve got time to put on another cup of coffee and pour it,” Rather said. 

Hold that java. NBC was the first to project Gore the winner in Florida just 10 minutes later. CBS and others followed soon after. 

ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, the former political operative for President Clinton, predicted legal challenges to vote counts would be brought in several states if the race stayed close. 

Peter Jennings anchored ABC’s coverage from a midtown Manhattan studio, alternating between the lights of Times Square blinking behind him and the lights from an electoral map. 

On NBC, analyst Tim Russert used a laser pointer to pick out states on a red, white and blue map. Later, Russert discarded the pointer to scribble voting projections in pen on a white tablet. 

CNN and Fox News Channel used a graphic borrowed from sporting events, displaying an electoral vote count as a scorecard on the corners of their screen. 

MSNBC – the cable network started by Microsoft – was disarmingly low-tech: A production assistant, Kara Kaplan, filled in states on a map like a giant jigsaw puzzle. 

Even as they faced the prospect of a sleepless night, political reporters were almost gleeful. 

“This is Christmas Eve for us political junkies,” MSNBC’s Chris Matthews said before any polls closed. “It certainly beats the Oscars. It beats the World Series.”