TV networks gearing up for elections extravaganza

From ‘touch screens’ to ‘holograms,’ high-tech rules

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There’s drama, sideshows, endless analysis. Unprecedented midterm election-night coverage has been ramped up to epic proportions by broadcasters, fueled by extravagant technology and a chance for lucrative ratings and buzz. There’s an eager audience: Americans are keenly interested in the horse race, the personalities and a potential political turnover.

“We are living in historic times. This is the first time in American politics, since the time of the original Tea Party, where fiscal issues have had their own constituency with a powerful voice: The ‘tea party’ movement,” said former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, co-author of “Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto,” published in August.

“This election will serve as a referendum, dispelling for our lifetime the idea that big government is good government. The media and the world will watch as everyday Americans peacefully, but with strength and conviction, use the hammer of democracy to center the nation again. Technology and the media have made much of this possible,” Mr. Armey said.

The hammer of the media is in operation as well.

Fox News will showcase a 32-person news and commentary team on Tuesday night that includes such political luminaries as Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove — sharing the screen with news heavies like Bret Baier, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. The network will track election results and exit polls minute-by-minute, and into the wee hours, via a huge “Touch Screen” that mimics computer applications.

With a nation preoccupied by a troubled economy, the Fox Business Network will also provide continuous live election night coverage with a business slant by anchor Neil Cavuto and a seeming cast of thousands. Mr. Cavuto will be joined by contributors including John Stossel; Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican; Forbes CEO Steve Forbes and media magnate Mort Zuckerman — among many others. CNBC and Bloomberg TV also plan comprehensive business-themed election coverage.

The on-camera population and high-tech delivery is also burgeoning at CNN, where some 30 correspondents will track results using three-dimensional graphics, “hologram technology,” and John Adams-era music with a historic theme, the network says — plus a newfangled “Election Matrix” displaying real-time data from dramatic bouts around the country.

“In an election filled with partisanship and strong anti-incumbent feelings, viewers will see the race through the lens of incumbencies: which incumbents have fallen, when they were elected, the nationwide impact and more,” said David Bohrman, senior vice president and Washington bureau chief. “Viewers are ready for a rich meal of election items.”

Viewers get to horn in as well. The news networks will monitor and display the public’s reaction from social media like Twitter; results will also be available via phone applications.

More facile with technology and the Internet than they were during the 2006 midterms, both broadcast and cable outlets offer longer, more substantial coverage than four years ago. Fox, CNN and MSNBC all began serious election programming on Saturday. Chastened by their experiences with erroneous and over-eager reporting since the 2000 presidential election, all vow to steer clear of speculation or premature declarations of winners.

Broadcast networks ABC, NBC and CBS have increased their coverage this year. Whereas all three were reduced to modest hourly updates in 2006, they now plan special programming this year, pre-empting some prime-time programming. ABC, in fact, will cover the election from 8 p.m. Tuesday to 4 a.m. on Wednesday.

The midterms could have implications for foreign policy, charging up interest from global news organizations ranging from the BBC and the Voice of America to Al Jazeera and Russia Television. BBC World News America, for example, plans a five-hour election night special that includes an appearance from veteran newsman Ted Koppel.

“Several congressional races involving Hispanic candidates are expected to go down to the wire,” said Alina Falcon, news president for the Spanish language Univision network. “Our entire national and local news teams around the country have been focused on this election for a long time, and we will continue to track the Hispanic vote, which will undoubtedly play a critical role on election night.”

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