There's No Business Like Pol Business

TV viewers love competitions. Which is probably why TV producers love to televise them, and the TV trade press, of course, loves to write about them. So it shouldn't be surprising that hardly any time lapsed between the closing ceremonies of the Beijing Summer Olympic Games, and the television wind-up of the next big competition series. No, not the new season of Fox's "American Idol" -- the roadblock coverage of TV's "American President." It should surprise no one that the Democratic National Convention is the TV industry's next big story. But how journalists are writing it, surprised even me.

In an AP story headlined, "DNC '08: Reviewing The Big Show," the national wire service treats the convention like a TV storyline on par with a scripted drama, or at the very least, a semi-scripted reality series. Bylined by AP News Manager Ted Anthony, the story likens the Democratic National Convention to the 1998 movie "Pleasantville," which, aptly enough, is about real contemporary people who get sucked into a 1950s television version of reality.



"That's what TV does," Anthony writes. "It puts spectacle in your bedroom, brings the fight to you. Yet the intimacy creates distance, too. It's easy to feel like you've actually experienced something when really you've only watched."

AP TV writer David Bauder goes one step further to suggest that the convention's TV coverage actually may have been partially scripted.

Describing Bill Clinton's speech on the convention floor Wednesday night, Bauder writes, "It was a meticulously organized peace offering done at a crucial time... Almost immediately, network anchors and pundits - tipped off by some of the genuine emotion they saw in the room - took a step back to recognize the historical import of a black man being nominated by a major party as its candidate for president."

Actually, tonight's coverage of the fourth and final night of the DNC promises to be a lot like Fox's "American Idol." Former "AI" star Jennifer Hudson will sing the National Anthem, while perky U.S. Olympics gymnastic gold medalist Shawn Johnson will deliver the Pledge of Allegiance. There will also be performances from pop stars ranging from Sheryl Crow to Stevie Wonder. And it will end, of course, with a performance by the media's favorite Democratic star, Barack Obama.

But the Hollywood cynicism surrounding coverage of the convention was summed up best by Tinseltown's very own trade, The Hollywood Reporter, which paid the DNC organizers show business' highest praise. "Oscar producer Gil Cates couldn't have done it better," wrote the magazine's Elizabeth Guider and Paul Gough, who went on to call the convention's "story line the envy of any scriptwriter in Tinseltown."

The piece concludes, "It's arguably the hottest ticket in town since Steven Spielberg unveiled 'Indiana Jones' in Cannes three months ago."

One good thing for the DNC -- and the television networks covering it -- American TV viewers apparently are not nearly as cynical as the journalists covering the event. The early returns from Nielsen indicate ratings so far are up substantially over coverage of the Democrat's 2004 convention. The number of people watching the first night was up 21% vs. the first night in 2004, and the number of people watching the second night was up a whopping 343% vs. the second night in 2004, according to Nielsen's estimates. Of course, the 2008 numbers include time-shifted DVR playback, whereas the 2004 numbers were for live-only viewing, suggesting that digital media may be providing yet another boon for the American presidential campaign. And you probably don't need to check your text messages to know that.

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