There is going to be a major change in the way television covers elections tonight.
For the first time, the three broadcast networks and cable's CNN will be pooling resources for exit polling and winner projections. As a result, the emphasis will be on analysis instead of who's first in calling races.
The pooled effort is a $12 million operation called Voter Research and Surveys (VRS). VRS will give each network polls and projections for all Senate, House and gubernatorial races, and state and local races of national interest.
The most extensive television coverage tonight promises to be on cable, with CNN and C-SPAN offering wall-to-wall election programming. "VRS combined with our nightlong commitment to cover the story will give us the most comprehensive off-year election coverage in our history," said CNN political director Tom Hannon.
Tonight's effort will be the most ambitious ever by C-SPAN, which will simulcast newscasts from states with key races -- such as Texas, North Carolina and California.
Furthermore, local cable will be an important player in tonight's coverage, with Comcast offering Baltimore County subscribers coverage of local races.
Here's the prime-time lineup (network and local) by channel:
* WMAR-TV (Channel 2). NBC's Tom Brokaw will anchor an election special from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. Channel 2 will offer local cut-ins at 8:55, 9:55 and 10:25 p.m. If local events warrant, Channel 2 will override NBC's coverage at 10:25 p.m. and stay local. Channel 2 will also offer an expanded newscast from 11 p.m. to midnight. At midnight, NBC returns with an election special.
* WBAL-TV (Channel 11). CBS' Dan Rather anchors a two-hour special from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., with Channel 11 cutting in at 8:02, 9:23, 9:53 and 10:23 p.m. CBS returns at 11:30 p.m. with an election special.
* WJZ-TV (Channel 13). ABC's Peter Jennings and David Brinkley anchor an election special from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. Channel 13 plans six-minute cut-ins between 8 and 8:30 and 9 and 9:30 p.m.; the exact times have yet to be determined. Cut-ins will also be presented between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. -- again, exact time to be determined. "Nightline" starts at 11:30 p.m. with an election special.
* CNN's coverage will run nonstop from 6 p.m. until 1 a.m., with Bernard Shaw in the anchor chair and Ken Bode as principal analyst. C-SPAN's coverage will start at 6:30 p.m. and continue throughout the night.
*Comcast (Channel 10 in Baltimore County) will offer five-minute reports on Baltimore County contests at 8:25, 8:55, 9:25, 9:55, 10:25, 10:55, 11:25 and 11:55 p.m..
* Radio station WBAL-AM (1090) will also offer uninterrupted coverage from 8 p.m. to midnight.
Weekly programs that will be pre-empted are "thirtysomething" on Channel 13, "Law and Order" on Channel 2 and the "CBS Tuesday Night Movie" on Channel 11.