In election coverage, cable swamped the competition

November 07, 1990|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

There was no contest last night in television coverage of the off-year elections. Cable swamped the competition.

Just as in coverage of the 1988 national conventions, the combination of CNN and C-SPAN was far and away superior to anything CBS, NBC or ABC could offer.

The television landscape, for example, looked like this at 9:10 last night (and it was representative of most of the prime-time coverage):

WJZ (Channel 13) was carrying ABC's "Roseanne.' " WMAR (Channel 2) was carrying "In The Heat of The Night." WBAL (Channel 11) was carrying CBS' Dan Rather with political coverage, but Rather was giving results only and doing it in an old-time, convention-hall, roll-call chant -- replete with references South Dakota as the "Coyote State" and Oklahoma as the "Sooner State" -- while giving us the totals.

CNN, meanwhile, was offering a live concession speech by Gov. Bob Martinez in Florida. And C-SPAN was talking live to pollsters, with political editors and reporters in Iowa and Illinois on the line ready to comment on races they have been covering for months.

While the broadcast networks were offering either entertainment rapid-fire results-only coverage, cable was offering reports with the candidates reacting to those results and some truly informed reporters and analysts explaining the results.

ABC and NBC were just as consumed with results as CBS when they joined the hunt at 10 last night. In fact, they were ever more frenetic, because they had only an hour to get in all the results. It was as if the broadcasters simply could not accept the new television universe, with everyone sharing exit polling and projection data, with only cable having committed the airtime to present it all instantly along with analysis and context. ABC did best of the broadcast networks, especially when it got to Jeff Greenfield.

Locally, the big story was Comcast mounting coverage of the Baltimore County races. The cable operation had problems dealing with limited results early on, but this is the future of local coverage; the effort overall was impressive.

Channel 11 used exit polling and did the best job initially of covering the Baltimore County executive race and the tax-cap proposals. Channel 2 did a good job of whipping around Maryland's major races just before 11 o'clock. The most interesting local observation of the night: Channel 2's Andy Barth saying that many of the people at Roy Dyson headquarters were advertising salesmen who had shown up to collect for ads they'd sold the loser.

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