After so much anticipation and, yes, downright desperation for the presidential campaign to please, please finally be over, Election Night on TV did not disappoint. From the Big Four broadcasters to the cable news nets to local stations, coverage of the historic election captured the authentic drama of the moment and made for a helluva night of television.
Save for Marisa Guthrie, who was embedded at Fox News Channel (see p. 12), and Alex Weprin, who was enjoying the "Elitist Mixed Greens" at Comedy Central's Indecision 2008 party, the B&C crew was stationed on the couch, each staffer locking in on a single network from 5 p.m. ET to the undeniably emotional end.
The night began with long lines. Aerial shots of voters waiting in line set the tone of momentousness. And having pledged to eat a Chips Ahoy chocolate-chip cookie each time the word "historic" was uttered, we knew we were in for a long night.
The varying degrees of technological wizardry on display across the networks was at times overbearing, but it was fun to watch. ABC's Charles Gibson joked about his set's "rather Starship Enterprise desks," but it was CNN that went full on sci-fi.
The 3D virtual model of the Capitol seized up at first and the touch-screen exit-polling display at times challenged the reach of political analyst Bill Schneider. But if the appearance of correspondent Jessica Yellin, projected in-studio as a Princess Leia-like hologram, was a bit too gimmicky, it was still really cool. We half expected CNN to start displaying poll results in a slow crawl that receded into the stars.
Still, B&C Editor Ben Grossman couldn't help but feel a bit melancholy watching CNN's John King work his trusty "magic wall."
"Where does this love affair go after the election?" Grossman wondered. "I am among the people who think King is a rising star, but what of the magic wall? Poor thing may end up like that other guy from Wham!"
Elsewhere, however, the gadgetry failed to dazzle. Executive Editor Melissa Grego flashed back to all the classes she slept through in high school while watching Chuck Todd and his color-coded electoral map on MSNBC.
And PBS' no-frills 2D map was so, well, PBS, that Jim Lehrer couldn't keep from self-deprecatingly mocking it.
If anything, all the hardware reminded many of us how much we missed that old white dry-erase board and the man behind it.
"I am already suffering Tim Russert withdrawal before a single poll has closed," wrote Washington Bureau Chief John Eggerton. "There is a palpable void where that beefy guy with the infectious grin and low-tech whiteboard used to hold court with unabashed delight in being the center of a whirl of activity."
The night also had some memorable bits of humor. Speaking with former Republican House leader Tom DeLay, MSNBC's Chris Matthews commended him on his reputed ruthlessness: "You know, I like the way you hate, sir. The great thing about hating is you really understand where a guy stands."
Republican consultant Alex Castellanos got off one of the best lines of the night when he lamented on CNN that "if Republicans can't beat a lunatic like Al Franken, we're in bad shape." (At presstime, Franken's bid to be a senator from Minnesota had yet to be called.)
Despite all signs pointing to a crushing GOP defeat, spirits ran high across the political divide. A jovial Rudolph Giuliani remarked on the New Year's Eve-like crowd gathered outside ABC's Times Square studio. "I think the ball might drop," said Diane Sawyer. "Yeah, it might drop on my head!" Giuliani quipped. Even Fox News contributor Karl Rove, who often seems to savor his caricature as a villainous GOP mastermind, appeared giddy, humming the Texas state song and passing out cookies to his on-air colleagues.
When the networks announced in unison at 11 p.m. ET that Barack Obama had become the nation's first African-American to be elected president, the images of the thousands gathered at Chicago's Grant Park—including a tearful Rev. Jesse Jackson—drove home the shared sense of history that night. It was television at its best.
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