Tag Archives: Diane Sawyer

The Election as American Television (From Broadcast Networks to the Internet)

12 Nov


Just around 67 million viewers tuned into the election, just short of the 2008 figure. Most major stations featured coverage (NBC, CNN, PBS, Fox News, MSNBC, WGN, CBS, etc…) While there is much to be said about the programming, especially in its undeniable relationship to the facilitation of politics, certain aspects of class were present in my thoughts while watching varied coverage last Tuesday:

Style – NBC was the clear winner throughout the night, both in ratings and critiques of most aesthetically pleasing presentation. Drawing off Caldwell’s “Excessive Style,” NBC and others rooted much of their programming with the notion that “videographic television since the 1980’s has been marked by acute hyperactivity and an obsession with effects” (Caldwell 12-13). From the touch screen televisions with the ability to recall the past four elections, and move the states around to play with the votes left to the finish, down to the specific font and color scheme. Almost all stations with coverage featured these effects, but NBC offered the sleekest and most cohesive presentation, as evidenced by the highest viewership.

Liveness – It’s rumored that Diane Sawyer was drunk throughout ABC’s coverage of the election, bringing the unscripted nature of the entire ordeal into light. The live coverage of the election is all the more apparent in Sawyer’s behavior on air; the air of nowness is abundant because this is something unplanned and uncalled for. Sawyer was not scripted to appear the way she did, it was her present translated to the audience’s present.

However, Caldwell abashes the “liveness” myth by arguing that “live” events are “comprehensively planned, scripted, and rehearsed; are in fact highly regulated and rigidly  controlled performances, fabricated to fit a restricted block of viewing time” (Caldwell 31). This is both accurate and less accurate in the context of the election; Caldwell originally discusses planned liveness in the context of Monday Night Football, which holds a routine easy to translate to “live” TV. Less so with the election—there was no specific knowledge of when states’ electoral votes would be called, or the president would be declared, or eventually when both Obama and Romney gave their respective speeches. This resulted in a fair amount of awkward airtime, such as images of empty stages and commentator assurance that they had no idea when anything would happen. Despite the preparedness network coverage came into the night with (see “style”) and a basic knowledge of how the night would likely progress (given past election coverage, awareness of key swing states, etc), the ambiguity of when key moments in the election would occur is perhaps what contributes to this idea of “liveness–” the programming is dependent on factors uncontrollable.

Social Setting – The election created both a literal social setting, as well as an implied one. The party at Reynolds Club is one small example of the structures established by the social nature of the election; people gathered across the nation to communally watch the television coverage, whether consciously (as parties) or unconsciously (in bars, as a family etc). What the election also did was to create an extremely influential water-cooler topic. While this may or may not be specific to programming instead of the events, this type of conversation and social interaction was certainly facilitated by television.

Election Binge ­– Mainly in the context of Tuesday’s theme, watching full coverage of the election was similar to television binge. Is binging on news coverage the same as binging on traditional television shows? The election certainly falls into what is “acceptable” to binge on—those who spent ages following the election and then many hours watching it are partaking in an American tradition, not addicts. I’m not sure about others, but I was not able to personally dedicate the amount of time required to fully watch coverage (from onset to both speeches having been given). Perhaps it’s a stretch to say that election coverage is binging, but would anybody else say they had similar thoughts? What constitutes binging—does it have to be 20+ hours and feature a narrative structure to count?

Related Videos:

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