What was the top TV story of the year? The choice was obvious to all of us, and probably all of you, too: The election. The 2008 race for the White House was not only historic, it was dramatic and played out more on TV with recognizable star personas than any election in recent memory.
And like a great TV show, it was a season-long run of highs and lows, tension and release, defeat and victory. Along the way, Americans made a choice about who will run the country for the next four years, but they were also entertained by a near constant barrage of media coverage in the form of maximum cable news, thousands of commercials, daily political commentary both serious and comic, a plethora of debates, and -- naturally -- Saturday Night Live's take on it all.
It all started about a year ago in the cold of Iowa and New Hampshire...
... one great TV moment.
2008 was filled with great TV moments, more than most years. So when I asked the TV Squad crew what they thought the greatest moment this year was, I got a lot of responses: the Fey / Palin "summit" on SNL, Letterman going off an an absent John McCain, any of Michael Phelps' Olympic victories, the spectacular opening ceremonies in Beijing, the finale of The Shield, any of the Presidential / VP debates, the Giants' upset of the Pats in the Super Bowl, and probably more that I can't even think of right now.
But they all seemed small in comparison to what happened in the late-night hours of Election Day, when Barack Obama got up in front of a crowd in Chicago's Grant Park and gave his acceptance speech. No matter what you think of Obama or his politics, it was a historic moment, and not just because Obama had just been elected the first African-American president. But the reason why it's the best TV moment of 2008 is because... well, moments like this don't happen that much anymore, do they?
We covered the coverage of the election last night on various stations, including ABC, CNN, FOX News, NBC, MSNBC, and Comedy Central. I covered CBS to see how Katie Couric did on her first night as election anchor. I'm a fan of Katie's, and for the most part I haven't agreed with the criticisms against her (beyond the growing pains she and the show had when she started), and I think she did a fine job.
So let's go over the good and the bad.
I don't know if you can hear that rush of wind across America, but that's the sigh of relief that the Presidential election is over. Either that, or it's the millions of yawns coming from viewers like you who watched election coverage through the wee hours of the morning. Many of them, like myself, tuned into coverage hosted by ABC News.
Overall, the team of Charlie Gibson, Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos did well in keeping the action going when there weren't any results to be called, which was most of the time. Other than 11:00 p.m., the winner calls only made up one to two minutes of each hour. So, the rest of the time was used for analysis, exit poll results, and playing with the touch screen map. It was after Obama was declared the winner that they were able to relay the excitement of the election and what it meant for America.
NBC decided to stick with the tried and true this year -- an anchor, the old sage analyst, and a few other people to help along the way. No real outrageous commentary, no poop-eating grins from any of the anchors (Keith Olbermann stayed on MSNBC) or anything that would be construed as "interesting" or "entertaining."
History was in the making because we knew going in whether the Dems or the Reps won, an African-American or a woman would be in the White House by the end of the night. MSNBC captured that political reality with images and by letting the camera run long after Obama's speech just to watch the faces of the people -- including Oprah and Jesse Jackson, both in tears -- celebrate in joy.
The prognosticators and pollsters were all on target by choosing Obama/Biden as the winners, so that means nobody's at Gallup or Fivethirtyeight.com is losing his/her job.
Let the celebration begin. McCain's concession speech. Obama's rousing acceptance. Lots and lots of reflection. It's a special night for the networks, even though the election was called relatively early. NBC was no exception:
- Emotional speeches by Tavis Smiley and Tom Brokaw. Brokaw's hard enough to understand as it is; with his voice wavering, he becomes downright impossible.
- Smiley wanted to break into an Electric Slide. Brokaw said "you need a bunch of white people to do that." Methinks Brokaw's been to too many cheesy weddings.
- BriWi tried to break out the humor, saying that Obama and Biden were about to move into "government housing." Brokaw was better: "Obama will be housebreaking a puppy in the White House; he'll have a harder time housebreaking the Democratic majority in Congress."
- Nice job bringing in sigfinicant African-American politicians: John Lewis, David Paterson, Cory Booker. It was good to get their perspective on this historic day (and a local shoutout to WNBC, who got anchor Sue Simmons' perspective on Obama's election; she's also from a mixed-race family, and the way they were treated in Chicago was a bit rougher than the treatment Obama got).
- Ann Curry got to break out of her green dungeon and sit at the desk after Obama's speech. She's gonna be tired on Today tomorrow.
- Luke Russert: "It's our turn now." Oh, the youth. So optimistic.
- Oh, the cutaways from Obama's speech: Harlem, Spellman College, and Election Plaza. Much more interesting than the pool camera showing Oprah and a sobbing Jesse Jackson every thirty seconds.
Final thoughts on NBC's coverage tomorrow morning...
12:23: Wolf Blitzer just reminded us that this is, in fact, an historic occasion. He also assures us that the coverage will continue. I, however, will not. All in all, CNN's coverage was adequate, but pretty boring. The reason I choose CNN over the other news channels is because of the personalities. Campbell Brown, Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper usually find ways to engage and amuse me, but not tonight. Everyone was pretty straightforward and dry. What do they think this is, network news? If I wanted straightforward and dry, I'd watch Charlie Gibson.
But hey. At least this election is over. See you in four years!
12:19: Obama finished speaking a good five minutes ago, yet nobody has broken in with commentary. That's either an admirable show of restraint or a sign that the CNN anchors are all busy getting drunk.
It's fantastic to see Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert team up on something other than an award show (not that I'm complaining about super-adorable Stewart/Colbert/Carell hugs, which warm my otherwise bitterly cold heart). It will be interesting to see how the boys react to the live results, but I'm most interested in seeing how Stephen Colbert stays in character.
10:05: Man, those intros were hardcore. And how long is that bird going to stay on Stephen's shoulder? I'm waiting for a startled poo. I'm still not used to seeing Jon and Stephen together. It's too much awesome.
10:12: Hi, Jason Jones! Nice to see -- Whoa, what just happened? Something flashed on the screen, but I didn't catch it. Suddenly compelled to join the military, though.
11:18 John McCain is conceding. He's a class act. A person sometimes shows more about himself in defeat then in victory. McCain recognizes that this is a great moment in history and he must acknowledge it gracefully. He's doing it well. I especially like his mentioning the passing of Obama's grandmother. He's taking the blame for the loss and calling for unity. I think he couldn't say it any more plainly or with courage. Call me crazy, but this sounds like the McCain of 2000. Very classy.
Well, at 11:00p/10:00 Central, with the polls having just closed in California, Fox News Channel officially projected Barack Obama to win the presidency by taking California and jumping to 297 projected electoral votes. It was nice of them to make the projection exactly on the hour. Everyone likes a nice round number.
Then, the election panel said that no one could have predicted this even a year ago, but 24 predicted it seven years ago with President David Palmer. That's a sister station, Fox. Didn't you see it? This year they're saying they can see a woman president. Does that mean Clinton in four or eight years? Palin in four? Oprah?
11:59: Obama starts his speech. Time to pay attention.
11:59: Waiting for Katie or somebody to mention Michelle Obama's flaming red and black dress.
11:58: OK, Obama taking the stage. They stop the music like at the start of movies when they stop the music and the coming attractions come on.
11:55: Katie asks Noonan to stick around until after the commercial, but they don't go to a commercial. Nice swell of music, though.
11:54: Peggy Noonan is back. Hey, isn't she usually on MSNBC or NBC?
11:45: Katie makes reference to The Patty Duke Show! Something to do with the Udalls and twins, I think.
11:39: Katie corrects Greenfield yet again: it's Nevadda, not Nevahda. Greenfield says the election is over, he doesn't care anymore.
There's a moment after each World Series, when the last out is made and the winning team rushes the field, that the play-by-play folks in the booth just keep quiet. Not a word is said as the team, and the home crowd, celebrate their victory. It is always an emotional moment for those watching the events.
I personally felt the same way when Charlie Gibson announced at 11:01:01 p.m. that Barak Obama was to be the next President of the United States, and scenes of jubilation filled the screen. From that point on, the comments by Diane, George and Charlie were few, subdued and reflective. They just let the emotions of the crowds in Time Square, Harlem, Keyna, and Grant Park in Chicago flow through the screen. Just the way it was supposed to be.
The lead-up to the -- oh, hell, let's just say it -- historic announcement by Charlie was done with the build-up of tension that would have made a number of movie directors proud. You could just see him restraining the news for those 10 seconds leading up to the top of the hour. He held it well. That's why he's one of the more respected broadcasters of today.
My ABC O&O moved to local news at 11:00 P.M., so I didn't catch the McCain and Obama speeches from there. I'll provide a wrap-up of the election coverage tomorrow morning.
8:48 David Gregory is good as a traffic cop. He's bouncing the focus around from Chuck to Chris to Ann to Lester really well. He's interviewing Obama's campaign chief strategist David Axelrod now. He doesn't look worried. He looks like Mr. Whipple, but he doesn't look worried.
8:55 Tom DeLay, former House Majority Leader -- is talking trash. He claims Nancy Pelosi is going to push President Obama around. Hmm...he sounds pretty bitter. Of course, he was forced to resign when he was indicted for election fraud.
Everyone's getting bored now. Megyn is running around talking to people all over the set and trying to make love to her "launchpad," while others are handing out cookies and snacks. When the election is turning into a landslide (which is how Fox News would have us think), I guess they're at a loss as to how to fill the time. "We booked the whole night for this coverage. Vamp! Vamp!" For more on why I love Fox News Election coverage, flip to the other side.
I think it's time to shake things up. Go crazy and call the whole election for McCain. Or even Nader. People will look back on it fondly and you'll be infamous in history. Just picture Brit Morgan's dour skull with the skin melting off looking at the camera with the words "McCain Projected to Win Presidency" below him. Legendary!
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