Politics is almost as much about staging as strategy. So it's not so odd that over the next two weeks, syndication's news and entertainment magazines will take their spotlights off Hollywood and shine them on Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul.
“What's a political convention but part flash and part entertainment?” says Charles Lachman, executive producer of CBS' Inside Edition, syndication's second-highest-rated magazine. “I've maintained for the last few months that this year's presidential race is the greatest reality show on television. Who could beat the drama of Hillary Clinton versus Barack Obama and how that came out?”
The magazines' challenge is to figure out how to distinguish themselves during the two highly covered events.
“Entertainment Tonight will be watching the women,” says Linda Bell Blue, executive producer of CBS' ET and The Insider, which will send correspondents Kevin Frazier and Cheryl Woodcock from each show to cover the conventions.
“It goes back to who the viewer is for our shows, so we're going to tailor our coverage for women.”
Lachman also expects to attract younger viewers. “Obama has obviously electrified the young electorate,” he says, “and there's a synergy between what young people want to watch and what the magazine shows are trying to deliver. Young people have a keen interest in both conventions. I think the numbers will bear that out.”
“What's really fascinating to our viewers is the two potential First Ladies—Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain,” says Bell Blue. “The sophistication of both these women is breathtakingly high. I think they are going to have a lot to do with who ultimately wins.”
To understand the Obama dynamics, Warner Bros' Extra says it will grab video from a camera given to an Obama insider.
“You can't get any closer to the Obamas than this,” says Lisa Gregorisch-Dempsey, the executive producer. Extra also plans to take viewer questions directly to candidates and stars.
When the magazines aren't putting their spin on the headlining events, they'll be chasing celebrities.
Actors Annette Bening, Ben Affleck, Josh Brolin, Spike Lee, Anne Hathaway and Susan Sarandon all are expected to be on hand in Denver, attending parties and political events.
“I've been working on this project for several months and every event scheduled seems to have an important message to get across,” says Steve Forrest, senior news producer at NBC Universal's Access Hollywood, which is decamping from the Beijing Olympics and heading straight to Denver.
Access' Maria Menounos, fresh off her ratings-winning interview with the Obama family over the July 4 weekend, will represent the show at both conventions.
“She's really earned her chops in the political arena this year, interviewing First Lady Laura Bush and her daughter, Jenna. And early in the campaign she interviewed several kids of candidates,” Forrest says.
CBS' Inside Edition, perhaps the genre's newsiest, is putting together investigative and feature pieces to air from both conventions.
The show, anchored by Deborah Norville, is sending correspondents Les Trent and Matt Meagher to Denver and Paul Boyd and Meagher to Minneapolis, Lachman says.
“We're not out to cover the day's events because that's always covered by cable news and nightly news,” Lachman says. “We're really there to do sidebar pieces and unique takes on stories that the other guys don't see or are too busy to do.”