Monday, August 25, 2008

Political Convention Season: Celebration Of Democracy Or Boring TV?

For those of you in the record audience that watched the 2008 Olympics that are already in withdrawal, fear not - there is plenty of spectacle left on the tube.

Tonight marks the four-day commercial for the Democratic Party, to be followed by next week's advertisement for the Republicans.

Once upon a time, the conventions were vaguely important because of all the backroom deals to pick a candidate, but with the candidates already picked and Barack Obama having announced his running mate over the weekend, there's not a whole lot of suspense. I'm guessing we'll know John McCain's VP pick before the Republican Convention begins next week.

So it becomes four days of speeches, speeches and more speeches, followed by endless analysis and spin doctoring.

In the UK, of which I'm also a citizen, the conventions actually decide the party's stand on a variety of issues and they set their annual agenda, so the conventions mean something. Here, not so much.

My colleague, Travis Fain, has pointed out that both parties would do better to donate half the $100 million or so it costs to put on a convention to the city that would be hosting it, which would still be a boost for the local economy, and donate the other half to some worthy cause.

But the networks are finally fixing something that I've been complaining about for years - giving the viewers other options. This year, the conventions will be shown live and in full on CNN, MSNBC and PBS, while the networks will only broadcast an hour of highlights and commentary at 10 p.m. each night.

Really, this is how it should be. We don't need every dial on the tube broadcasting the same speech. It's overkill. Ditto for things like the State of the Union. I'm not against broadcasting these speeches - on the contrary, it's very important - but really, this is what PBS is for. It's public television that's available to everyone.

So please, feel free to watch either convention or both, or neither. Now you have that choice.

MONDAY'S BEST BETS: OK, admittedly, not a whole lot on the tube, so you may as well watch the convention, since everything is pretty much repeats. (That won't be the case next week during the Republican Convention).

Still, one can catch new episodes of "The Closer" and "Saving Grace" on TNT, beginning at 9 p.m.

HBO is premiering the documentary "The Black List: Vol. 1" at 9 p.m., profiling the lives of notable African-Americans. "Weeds" (Showtime, 10 p.m.) is also new.

Finally, the US Open (USA, 7 p.m.) runs virtually ad nauseum beginning tonight.


zodin2008 said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the major networks are airing the so-called "prime time" speeches the next 4 nights...tonight it's Michelle Obama, tomorrow Hillary Clinton, Wednesday Joe Biden and Thursday, Obama.

I don't think you'll just be seeing "highlight reels" when the main NBC or ABC airs their part of the convention.

The conventions are also probably starting later thanks to what seemed like another endless Olympics. And as you correctly pointed out, the conventions are now not getting their fair share of coverage.

The Democrats basically have this 'free week' with really no TV on (college football only finally starts Thursday night and considering the amount of hot air usually coming from Obama, that might be a good night to start watching football), while the GOP has to compete with new network shows having premiers or season premiers next week such as Prison Break, Sarah Conner Chronicles and 90210.

(not to mention next week's most important premier will be on Cable...The Shield).

Phillip Ramati said...

You're right, I should have made it clearer, Thursday will be full coverage on the networks, which is fine, because those are the candidates' speeches.

But in the past, they used to run three hours of network coverage.