Written by Politics, TV

Convention Season

In the US it’s convention season. That is to say that the Democrats and Republicans are holding their quadrennial events. In the UK we have party conferences, but really the two cannot be compared.
In the UK we have access to all this malarkey on BBC Parliament which nightly shows two hours of live coverage between 2am and 4am each evening (and then repeats it at 4am, 6am, 8am, 10am… 6pm, 8pm, 10pm and 12am – so you should be able to catch it). Happily, that means that the conventions’ coverage runs between 9pm and 11pm EST – right in the middle of primetime.
But what a curious affair these conventions are. So far I’ve watched the first night’s coverage and bits of the second where Hillary came on and spoke for Obama.
In the US, all the networks cover these events, but while the word “convention” might suggest some sort of meeting, the outcome of which is possibly not completely known, the reality is that these events are choreographed to within an inch of their lives.
It seems to go something like this:
– Off-stage band plays music while convention goers chat amongst themselves or bop around like they’re really enjoying themselves.
– Somebody comes out and reads a speech from the autocue quite badly. The speech basically says that Barack Obama is brilliant.
– Another musical interlude to allow networks to run some ads and then some kind of analysis of what they’ve just heard. But BBC Parliament is showing the unadulterated CSPAN coverage which is unsullied by punditry.
– Someone quite dull comes on and gives a speech. Nobody’s interested and you realise that the networks (all of whom are carrying this live along with the cable news operations) are still in pundit mode and aren’t interested. They might have cut from their studio at the edge of the arena to someone 10 or 15m further into the arena for their take. The audience isn’t really interested and the mics clearly pick up lots of background chatter.
– Someone vaguely interesting introduced someone slightly more interesting. But first we have to watch a professionally put together five minute video.
– More interesting person – e.g. Edward Kennedy – comes out and is given applause that’s carefully timed so that the event runs smoothly. Audience members carefully hold up Placard A from their Placard Packs that all read “Kennedy” just so everyone knows.
– Speech is finished and more applause is received, perhaps with family in tow.
– Muzak begins again as we reach commercial/punditry time and the chatter begins.
– Repeat from the top.
Nobody says anything interesting. The convention – at least this public face of it – is simply there to give an hour of free coverage. Compare and contrast with the annual British party conferences where occasionally a dissenting voice is heard (OK – they’re rare) and where speeches are only ever scheduled during the daytime, because you’re lucky if BBC2 actually shows it live – let alone BBC1 or ITV1 in the evening.
Ted Koppel gave a cracking report on it all for BBC News America which you can watch here. Well worth your time.
Well – I better get back to last night’s coverage as the third night starts in a little over two hours’ time.
Or maybe I should just break out my Tanner ’88 DVDs again.