TV networks get creative with election coverage

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TV election night coverage featured high-tech sets and graphics, some of which didn't work well, and an unusual send-off for ABC's David Brinkley. In 35 metered markets, ABC led with a 11/16 rating, followed by Fox (which showed the movie "Beethoven") with a 9.2/13, NBC (8.9/13) and CBS (6.1/9). NBC projected its Decision '96 logo nine stories high on its Rockefeller Center headquarters, flanking the building with two jumbo video screens and installing Brian Williams in an anchor bubble in front of the skating rink.

At CBS, Harry Smith's "virtual reality" set had him surrounded by a sparkling red and blue background with computer-generated graphs and charts that popped up out of thin air.

For Mr. Brinkley, the awkward moment came as ABC was preparing to end its coverage for the evening--about 1 a.m. (ET)--and correspondents gathered for a surprise send-off for the veteran newsman. Believing he was off the air, Mr. Brinkley noted that he would miss all the "goddamn nonsense" in politics. Later Mr. Brinkley closed out the evening with a tirade.

"[President Clinton] has not a creative bone in his body," Mr. Brinkley said. "Therefore he's a bore, and will always be a bore." An ABC spokeswoman later said that Mr. Brinkley was not aware he was on the air when he used a profanity and added, "David Brinkley is a man of very strong opinions, and last night, he expressed his opinions, as he has his whole career."

Fox News Channel, doing its first election night, suffered some gaffes switching to graphics, reporters and guests--the camera caught new Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott combing his hair, for example.

On the last "Politically Incorrect" with Bill Maher on cable's Comedy Central (it moves to ABC in January), Rev. Jerry Falwell predicted President Clinton would face impeachment proceedings in the second term. Earlier, liberal former Republican Sen. Lowell Weicker told him, "Jerry, do me a favor. Stay in the pulpit."

Copyright November 1996, Crain Communications Inc.

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