Dr. Ruth Westheimer and Megadeath's Dave Mustaine won't be there this time. But Ted Nugent, a.k.a. the Motor City Madman, and Joe Bob Briggs, the drive-in movie critic from Texas, will.
Are you ready for cable covers George Bush, Dan Quayle and the Republicans starting today as the GOP National Convention convenes in Houston?
On one level, cable TV has been the name of the game in convention and overall political coverage since 1988. That's when the party gatherings were first termed the "cable conventions," because of the blanket coverage offered by CNN and C-SPAN.
But as the traditional broadcast networks of ABC, NBC and CBS cut their convention coverage to the bone last month with the Democrats, cable raised its game to the next level.
CNN and C-SPAN were joined in political coverage by several highly targeted niche-programmers. Their approaches ranged from the 6,1l,2p8,1l more traditional TV journalism of Black Entertainment Television (BET) to the hot visuals and musician-correspondents of MTV, but they had one thing in common: Each was trying to offer coverage honed to the needs and interests of its audiences.
And while eyebrows were raised in some stodgier newsrooms about MTV having Mustaine and rapper MC Lyte as their reporters, for example, the experiment seems to have gone just fine across the board.
Viewership was up for the "Day in Rock" show where most of the reports from Mus- taine, MC Lyte and Tabitha Soren, the 24-year-old political correspondent for MTV, aired the week of the Democratic convention. In terms of reporting and analysis, it is safe to say that they offered their core audience of viewers 18 to 24 the most relevant information anywhere on TV.
Soren, for example, took a light feature approach to spending a ** day with an 18-year-old delegate from Georgia and turned it into a remarkably informative report on what political parties, delegates and conventions are all about. And it never stopped being fun -- from Soren and her camera crew literally waking the poor guy up in his hotel room to the delegate's earnest analysis of the various freebie buffets offered at convention parties.
Soren will be back for MTV this week in Houston. Instead of Mustaine and MC Lyte, she'll be joined by Nugent, a man who has earned the nickname "Motor City Madman" both on and off stage. (Mustaine and MC Lyte continue to be involved in MTV's "Choose or Lose" campaign to raise the level of political awareness and voting among its 18- to 24-year-old core audience. They hosted a "Choose or Lose" MTV telethon Saturday.)
On the other end of the demographic dial, the Nostalgia channel, which is geared to viewers 55 and older, will have to do Houston without Dr. Ruth, who teamed with former NBC news correspondent Jim Hartz to cover the Democrats in New York.
It's not that Dr. Ruth has anything against Republicans or didn't like the experience of working as a floor reporter in New York. "But I'm going to be in the Alps of Switzerland with my grandson, my daughter, her husband and my son," she said. "So, I'm not going to be in the country, and I'm not going to forgo that hiking vacation. . . . But I would otherwise go."
Nostalgia will be in Houston with Hartz and Arlene Herson, host of an interview show in New York City. "Herson will use her interviewing expertise to address pertinent issues for Nostalgia's audience such as Social Security and health care," Cheryl Difatta, a spokeswoman for the network, said.
BET will be in Houston with award-winning journalist Ed Gordon and Sabrina Dames reporting. The network enjoyed such success with the Democrats that it is expanding its coverage for the Republicans this week.
In addition to several daily reports today through Thursday from Dames and Gordon, BET will offer a 30-minute special at 8 Thursday night on the convention and "special concerns of African American voters."
"Our coverage in New York was a great success for us," said Deborah Tang, director of news and public affairs. "We had a different perspective and viewpoint than the mainstream networks."
Offering a different perspective than just about anybody on the planet, Comedy Central is also expanding its lineup from the team led by anchorman Al Franken, of "Saturday Night Live," which covered the Democrats.
Franken will be joined this week by Calvin Trillin, staff writer for the New Yorker, and Merrill Markoe, formerly of "Late Night With David Letterman," among others. Trillin will be Comedy Central's floor reporter at the Astrodome. Markoe will be the network's "street reporter" in Houston. Others offering in-studio analysis will include: Spy magazine's Joe Queenan, Showtime's redneck film critic Joe Bob Briggs, "Match Game" show host Gene Rayburn and Roy Blount Jr.
Franken, who originated the SNL's popular "Weekend Update" feature, compared Comedy Central's coverage to what some college students do when they gather in a room to watch, comment on and mock the political conventions as shown on TV. "We'll even order out for pizza," he said.
Comedy Central's audience is defined by sensibility or attitude. MTV's and Nostalgia's are defined by age. BET's audience is determined by race. The audiences of other cable channels are a matter of gender, religion or education. Multichannel TV equals multicultural America.
As the convention hall opens to new reporters, hopefully, the political process is made more relevant and inclusive to its audiences.