Hillary Clinton courtesy CBS
Who knew that the 2008 race for the White House would become a hot network prime-time show? NBC is likely to join CBS and ABC in expanding the number of hours they devote to covering Super Tuesday on Feb. 5, the day when 24 states will have primaries or caucuses to help choose a party ominee. "Everyone has been surprised at the public's level of interest," one network news exec tells The Biz. "But if there wasn't a writers' strike, would we be having this conversation?"
Maybe not. It probably wasn't a tough choice for CBS to pull a repeat episode of
to give Katie Couric an extra hour to cover what will be a fairly complex story, as the distribution of delegates based on the voting results can vary by state.
But if the 2008 race continues to be a battle royale between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side, and Sen. John McCain is still fighting it out with Mitt Romney in the GOP race, the broadcast networks may find themselves closer to reversing another trend. You can bet that if no clear winner comes out of Super Tuesday, you'll hear more talk about the nominees being chosen at the party conventions scheduled for late summer. Such a scenario would likely put the networks back in the business of extended coverage of the events.
Since 1988, the networks have cut back on the number of hours they've devoted to the conventions, and for good reason. With the nominations wrapped up earlier in each presidential election cycle, the conventions became nothing more than infomercials for the Democrats and Republicans - and boring ones at that.(Ted Koppel famously left the Republcans' '96 gathering in San Diego before it was over because there was nothing going on. As 24-hour cable news reached critical mass, the broadcast networks have pretty much ceded convention coverage to them. In 2004, more viewers watched the final night of the Republican National Convention on Fox News Channel than on ABC, NBC and CBS.
But a brokered convention could be compelling unscripted programming at a time when the broadcasting networks will be dealing with whatever long-term effects the writers' strike will have.
A political junkie's fantasy? Perhaps. "I think the odds are still against it but it's increasingly likely every week that goes by," says ABC News senior political correspondent Jake Tapper.
The parties certainly don't want it. "Because the conventions are so late, the idea that you'd go three months between divvying up all the delegates and still not having a nominee - I don't see either party [having] the stomach for that," says NBC News political director Chuck Todd. "Something would break, someone would push things one way or another. But everything in this campaign has gone the opposite of what we think."
It sure would make for some great TV. And by the end of this summer, we'll probably need it.