Early Prognostications and Blur of Graphics Mark TV Election Coverage

Updated: ABC, NBC, CBS slate primetime coverage while cable news nets fill up hours of air time
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The midterm elections are upon us, and the battle for the Senate is front and center.

The early victory for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was a harbinger of good things for the GOP, which pundits and prognosticators expected to take back control of the Senate.

Even before polls across the country closed, networks wasted no time whipping out interactive maps, stat machines and magic walls, and showing off upgrades and changes to their election coverage.

CNN had no shortage of reporters in the field, having people stationed in various campaign headquarters and polling sites in key states. To visually show the breadth of their newsgathering, Anderson Cooper spent much of the night standing in front of a giant 24-screen wall.

ABC, CBS and NBC went live for an hour between 10 and 11 p.m., while cable news channels were on air for hours. Local stations, meanwhile, were set for a busy night as well. ABC News, in the lead-up to its primetime coverage, ran a live stream of coverage hosted by Nightline and weekend Good Morning America co-anchor Dan Harris on ABCNews.com beginning 7 p.m. ET. NBC and CBS featured updates and video clips online, but no single live stream of studio coverage.

ABC featured a large panel of anchors and pundits in its Times Square studio, but still felt compelled to cut to interviews with journalists outside the studio and outside ABC News, such as Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com and Yahoo’s Katie Couric—who spoke with Good Morning America co-anchor and This Week moderator George Stephanopoulos live from the Capitol Lounge bar in Washington, D.C., where Yahoo hosted its election night special. ABC also featured Alicia Menendez of Disney-Univision co-venture Fusion providing social-media commentary.

NBC featured the night’s most impressive piece of furniture, around which NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd, MSNBC’s Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough and correspondent Andrea Mitchell gathered to form the core of the network’s coverage. “We’re sitting here with our family at the table, which just so happens to be star-shaped,” Williams said. The translucent tabletop, which sat atop a red and blue pedestal, was indeed shaped like a star.

CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley and CBS This Morning co-host Norah O’Donnell led coverage for CBS. Also in-studio for CBS were Charlie Rose, Gayle King, Anthony Mason, Bill Whitaker, Nancy Cordes and John Dickerson.

Prior to the election, at least one network, NBC, had planned to keep its staff at the decision desk for analyzing election results on the job longer than usual because some key elections might not be decided without a run-off. The decision was a smart call by NBC, with CNN and others predicting that the Louisiana race will go to a run-off, which also means a month more of politicking, boosting TV station political ad revenue there.

At 5:56 PT, viewers switching to Oregon Public Broadcasting channel 10 would see an elephant on the screen but it was part of a segment on a kid’s show, Wild Kratts about pigeons. At 5:57 PT, the BBC World News called the New Hampshire race for Jeanne Shaheen, the Democrat; an hour later at 6:55 PT, CNN had not yet called the race with Sheehan leading by less than 4,000 votes. At 6:57 PT, viewers returning to Oregon Public Broadcasting looking for election coverage got the Nightly Business Report, where they got the shocking news that gambling revenues were down 23% in Macau, causing a sell-off in gaming stocks.

In the 10 p.m. ET hour Al Jazeera America focused on “dark money,” returning to the topic after a 7 p.m. half-hour special on the undocumented campaign funds, and ad spending. Contributor Kimberly Halkett reported that dark money spending is eight-times greater this year than in 2010. Ali Velshi, host of Al Jazeera America's Real Money, explained that most senate race ad dollars were spent in North Carolina, while Alaska spent the most per-capita at $120 per voter. Florida, Illinois and Pennsylvania were the most expensive gubernatorial races. The network used the Associated Press to call races across the country.

At 8:15 PT in Oregon, where there is a ballot measure to legalize marihuana that has gained widespread national attention and the cable networks are calling key ratings in the Republican’s bid to take the Senate, only two broadcast stations, KPDX (which is carrying the Fox 12 local news coverage) and KOPD (carrying the PBS nightly news) offered election coverage.

Despite many early races too close to call, pundits had no trouble filling airtime. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews jokingly called the Fox News Channel an “oxymoron,” while Fox raised a few eyebrows with its (perhaps too) early reporting of exit polls.

On MSNBC, Tom Brokaw’s analysis was interrupted by his cell phone, which sounded like a fire alarm. He jokingly answered, saying he would pick up milk on the way home and walk the dog.

Jon Stewart had Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus on The Daily Show following a number of blue-to-red Senate seat switches. Although it wasn’t “the greatest night of his life,” as Stewart said, Priebus was positive about his party’s future saying, “tonight obviously we’re going to be having more wins out there in the Senate and there’s more to come." Priebus also pointed out the local campaigns in contentious states like Colorado, with Stewart noting “What I love about it is that you only talk in swing states.” With a Republican majority in the Senate looking like a possibility, Priebus said he hopes President Obama will be willing to “come to table,” saying, “Now I think we can box him in and we can get this [work] done.”

At midnight ET, Fox News cohost Megyn Kelly recreated her long 2012 walk from the studio through the net's beige-carpeted hallways down to the Decision Room, where analysts were crunching the numbers. As she passed analyst Karl Rove, she theatrically wagged a finger at him. "You can't hide, Karl. Be glad it's not about you this time," she called out.

In 2012, the Decision Room parried Rove's insistence that Ohio could have voted for Republican hopeful Mitt Romney with the facts supporting the network's call that President Obama had carried the Buckeye State.

This time around, it brought definitive word that Florida Republican Rick Scott had survived a tight contest with Charlie Crist.

Over on the Twittersphere, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Ia.) made waves for a curious post about Dairy Queen. Meanwhile, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon tweeted (and then deleted) a photo of him voting next to a constituent, who was caught at an unfortunate moment.

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