LEFT COAST BIAS: Will TV Viewers Still Care About the Election Next Year?

Says Meet the Press ' Tim Russert: 'The Challenge Will Be from February to November, How to Keep the Country Engaged. That's a Long, Long Period.'

Viewers may burn out on all of this election coverage long before next November, but at least I may get a sweet new car out of it. Anytime political programming is on in Casa Grossman, which is often, the missus and I tend to cordially disagree. And by “cordially,” I mean she says something about her candidate, I make a comment, and she fires something at my head.

This happens enough that my 18-month-old son has already developed a Clemens-like fastball just from watching his mom, um, express her political views at me. So, when the kid signs that huge deal as a pro pitcher one day and buys me something heartfelt and meaningful like a fancy car (this is L.A., after all), I will always have the 2008 election to thank.

But with 13 months to go until we decide the next president, I wonder if my wife and I can keep up the passion. Married guys will find that last line funny.

The real question from a political interest standpoint is, can television viewers around the country keep it up? Is there anywhere on TV the candidates haven't been on already? They are running out of talk shows. I mean, how far off are we from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton battling for that elusive Steve Wilkos booking?

Meeting with Russert

For some answers, I turned to my personal political adviser, Tim Russert. By personal adviser, I mean I listen to Meet the Press podcasts whenever I run in Beverly Hills and try not to get caught admiring the fine work of the city's real artists: plastic surgeons.

Now, interviewing Russert is always intimidating for a very simple reason: He knows a ton about politics, and I don't. Most of what I know actually came from The West Wing, so if it didn't happen during the Bartlet administration, I'm screwed. Luckily, Russert is able to verbally pull out his dry-erase board and walk me through everything as if I am the 18-month-old with the nasty fastball.

First off, he notes that yes, we are way ahead of schedule for all this attention. Consider: 16 years ago, for the election of 1992, Bill Clinton first declared that he was running for office Oct. 3 -- which would be right about now. In a case of marital one-upmanship I can relate to, Hillary Clinton has been in since January.

Wait Till Next Year

The early cycle makes sense because this is the first time since 1952 that no incumbent president or vice president is up for the office. But with all the media attention, Russert agrees that election fatigue is a real possibility for voters and TV viewers, especially once we get to next year.

“The challenge will be from February to November, how to keep the country engaged,” he says. “That's a long, long period.”

And as for the candidates hitting all kinds of outlets, while Bill Clinton's appearance on Arsenio worked, Russert warns that it can backfire.

“Politicians are trespassing in some new venues, and it is not all upside,” he says. “That can be treacherous terrain when running for president of the United States.”

Russert points to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's appearance last week onThe View, during which Barbara Walters said Whoopi Goldberg wants to “do” Pelosi's husband, and Pelosi too. “Those were some pretty blatant sexual references,” he laughs. “You wouldn't hear that on Meet the Press.”

And a nation says thank you.

But Russert's big pet peeve is that this group of candidates is especially adept at not answering the tough questions. He says they'd rather tape messages to broadcast on campaign Web sites and appear on soft-hitting shows.

He even takes a swipe at candidates Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney for turning down his open invitation to face the music. “They somehow haven't been able to find time in their schedules for the last year,” he grouses.

Better get in line behind Wilkos, Tim. It's been that kind of campaign so far.

And like my kid's fledgling fastball, we're just getting warmed up.

Send comments to Ben.Grossman@reedbusiness.com.