What the TV networks are planning for election night
By DAVID BAUDER
AP Television Writer
The long-running television drama known as Campaign 2016 should reach its conclusion Tuesday night, and tens of millions of Americans will be following the results on their television screens. The record election night audience of 71.5 million viewers came on the night of Barack Obama’s first victory in 2008 (it was 66.8 million in 2012). Given the consistent level of interest throughout the 2016 campaign, it’s not hard to imagine that record being broken.
Besides following on TV, many of those viewers will have second or third screens at hand to dive deeper into results. Here’s a thumbnail sketch of network plans:
The current and two former anchors of ABC’s flagship “World News Tonight” broadcast will be on the set election night, but George Stephanopoulos will lead the coverage. Stephanopoulos is ABC’s top man in politics, and it will be his first election night as the chief anchor.
Election night is all hands on deck, however, and Charles Gibson is coming out of retirement to be on the set. Diane Sawyer, who anchored ABC’s coverage four years ago, will also participate, along with current “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir. ABC’s coverage will originate from Times Square, and Michael Strahan of “Good Morning America” will be outside to get public reaction. ABC is stationing Robin Roberts at Hillary Clinton’s headquarters, and Amy Robach at Donald Trump’s. ABC News also has the closely watched prognosticator, Nate Silver of the FiveThirtyEight website, giving state-by-state analysis. ABC will also air a special edition of “Nightline” from 2 to 4 a.m. ET.
CBS is stressing the ensemble approach for its coverage and showcasing its entire morning show team. Rather than declare Scott Pelley as its chief anchor, CBS News is giving equal billing to seven different personalities: Besides Pelley, they are the morning show team of Charlie Rose, Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell, the network political director John Dickerson, correspondent Elaine Quijano and semi-retired anchor Bob Schieffer.
Rose will showcase his interviewing and also lead a panel of experts for analysis. Anthony Mason is CBS’ man at the maps. Major Garrett will cover Trump headquarters and Nancy Cordes will be with Clinton. The CBSN streaming service, which celebrates its second birthday this weekend, will also stream a continuous news report Election Day and night.
Election night coverage on CNN begins before any of the polls close, at 4 p.m. ET, with Wolf Blitzer, Jake Tapper, Anderson Cooper and Dana Bash tag-teaming it. Actually, Election Day coverage begins 16 hours earlier, with CNN appealing to insomniacs with a live overnight political show hosted by Poppy Harlow.
The network is stationing 25 correspondents to report from polling sites at swing states across the country. John King is back in front of CNN’s Magic Wall of data, David Chalian will cover exit polls and Mark Preston is stationed at the network’s decision desk. Gloria Borger, David Axelrod, Nia-Malika Henderson and Michael Smerconish are at the analysts’ desk.
For overseas viewers, CNN International will simulcast the main network’s elections coverage all over the world.
If you tire of television analysts, C-SPAN offers an alternative. The network will dart around the country to hear victory and concession speeches by candidates running for various races. The network will also take viewer calls and sample comments from social media throughout the night, beginning at 8 p.m. ET.NBC
NBC is the defending election night ratings champion, and that’s a major point of pride for a television news division. With Brian Williams now exiled to MSNBC, the main network is taking the team approach with Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie and Chuck Todd as headliners for its coverage. Tom Brokaw is a comforting presence as an analyst: He’s been involved in every NBC election night since 1968. As in the past, NBC is dressing up New York’s Rockefeller Plaza, with the front of its headquarters lighting up in red and blue to mark the electoral progress of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and a map of the United States superimposed on the famed skating rink.
Todd will be NBC’s guru of exit polls and the electoral map. Andrea Mitchell will report live from the Clinton campaign headquarters, with Katy Tur doing the same at Trump’s. Each of the three top broadcasters will air elections coverage from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. ET.
Fox News Channel offered the most indelible images of election night 2012, a star-making turn for Megyn Kelly when she walked back to the network’s decision desk after analyst Karl Rove questioned the network’s calling of the election for Obama. Kelly is back as co-anchor of Fox’s coverage with Bret Baier, starting at 6 p.m. ET. Chris Wallace, Brit Hume, Dana Perino, Juan Williams, Tucker Carlson, Charles Krauthammer and Rove will be analysts. Fox prime-time personalities Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity have no listed role on election night, but they will have special Sunday night editions of their show. Networks are careful on election night not to release exit poll information before polls close in affected states. But veteran election night watchers know that Fox is often the best place for read-between-the-lines hints on how things are going. The Fox broadcast network usually takes a backseat to the cable news operation, but Shepard Smith will anchor coverage on Fox from 8 to 10 p.m.
No longer on the main network, Williams will anchor MSNBC’s coverage as part of a team with Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews. MSNBC’s coverage starts at 6 p.m., an hour earlier than NBC, and will draw on the same bench of experts used by the main network.
Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill will anchor PBS’ election night coverage, which begins at 8 p.m. ET on the public broadcasting network. John Yang will be at Clinton headquarters in New York and Jeffrey Brown will be following Trump. PBS’ list of analysts include David Brooks of The New York Times, Amy Walter from the Cook Political Report, veteran broadcaster Jeff Greenfield, Mitt Romney’s former campaign chief Stuart Stevens and former Obama pollster Cornell Belcher.