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Networks ready nonstop convention coverage

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There used to be 24 hours in a day. Now it's almost triple that - at least for the broadcast hordes who will be covering the Democratic National Convention.

Mere gavel-to-gavel coverage won't do. This is dawn-to-dusk, midnight-hour, super-sized fare that plumbs the wisdom of insiders and outsiders, wonks and workers, anchors and amateurs. Between the networks and the news channels, there will be a total of 72 hours of daily coverage available to viewers during the four-day Democratic drama/sitcom/clubhouse meeting.

That figure is bare bones, though. It does not include the sporadic or tangential material planned on the BBC, the Comedy Channel, Spanish-language Univision, Lifetime or myriad niche networks that also will weigh in on the occasion, or the endless replay of pivotal political moments rebroadcast at dedicated companion Web sites, or pirated somewhere online.

Granted, Americans are significantly more interested in this convention than those in years past. A Pew Research Center survey released Friday revealed that 59 percent of the public is keenly interested in the developments in Denver - up from 36 percent who were interested in the 2004 Democratic convention.

Broadcasters will be there for them.

MSNBC alone will devote 20 hours a day, as will Fox News and CNN, where eager correspondents will bolt out of the gate at 6 a.m. each morning, winding down in a mellow mood with Larry King after midnight. CNN is also broadcasting in high-definition format. Food-fueled chat is the coverage du jour; all three of the cable news networks will feature casual broadcasts from the interior of some cozy bar and grill.

The big three networks - CBS, NBC and ABC - will feature an hour each night; PBS will offer three hours nightly; C-SPAN, six.

Is there an actual political convention in there somewhere? Yes, there still will be long hours of roll calls, electoral tedium, podium posturing and speechifying. Delegate will wear odd hats, and the cadence of the occasion will rise and fall according to the star power or gaffe potential of whoever happens to be hogging the dais at any given time.

The election - like the Olympics - has brought out unprecedented zeal in broadcasters. The result is, in a word, exhausting. No minutiae will escape unnoticed, whether it's the mumbled opinion of some guy in a diner to the play-by-play of senior anchormen who have covered every convention since forever.

The trend has prompted some braking systems. As part of MSNBC's convention coverage, for example, the network will telecast multiple one-minute ""convention roadblocks" to recap the keepers of the day, repeating them on a half-dozen sister networks, including NBC, CNBC, Bravo and the SciFi Channel.

Despite all the energy and inventiveness, some are critical of the mix, citing pre-existing bias or protective favoritism.

A new Media Research Center study examining broadcast coverage of Sen. Barack Obama since 2000 found that just 5 percent of the stories were downright negative about the presidential hopeful. Even late-night TV was not exempt. A six-month examination of jokes from NBC's "Tonight Show" and other shows found that assorted hosts made fun of Mr. Obama 382 times. They skewered Sen. John McCain, however, a total of 549 times.

Some question the broadcasters themselves.

"The conventions are stultifying media spectacles, where no one expects anything to happen ... it´s devoid of public interest," said Chris Lehman, a senior editor at Congressional Quarterly told Harper's magazine.

"Not to be too conspiratorial, but there is an economic interest at stake because you want people to come back and watch the same drivel the next day, in the same way that I obsessively check the sports section to see how the Cubs did," Mr. Lehman said.

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