Magazine article Variety

A Convention Rarity: Unpredictability

Magazine article Variety

A Convention Rarity: Unpredictability

Article excerpt

ON THE PENULTIMATE NIGHT of the Republican National Convention in 2012, TLC's "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" drew an audience greater than any individual network's coverage of the GOP gathering.

This embarrassing testament to voter apathy was hardly a surprise: Political conventions have long been carefully stage-managed coronations - choreographed infomercials at which crowd reaction is about as spontaneous as a sitcom's in-studio audience.

But this year's gatherings promise a twist: There's sure to be news, particularly at the Republican National Convention, July 18-21 in Cleveland, and likely at the Democratic gathering the following week, July 25-28 in Philadelphia.

As they always have, the cable news networks will air nonstop coverage of the proceedings, this year hoping to replicate the record interest drummed up by some of the current cycle's debates and forums. Broadcaster ABC will devote more primetime hours to the gatherings than it has in recent years.

ABC News will spend an hour of primetime on each night of both parties'conventions - an hour more in total than last cycle, when the conventions ran for three days instead of four. The network also has plans to break in for special reports at other times during the day. That's a far cry from generations ago, when the conventions dominated network schedules, but it is a reversal from recent cycles that have seen a gradual scaling back in the primetime hours. Meanwhile, CBS News and Twitter are partnering to live-stream the events. NBC News has yet to announce plans.

There's a good reason for this year's shift: unpredictability.

"[Conventions] all have news value, but I can't remember the news value and interest level that this year's have," says Marc Burstein, senior executive producer of special events for ABC News."We are committing more resources, and we are more 'all in' on the two conventions than we have been in a long time."

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the presumptive nominees, will both be looking to the conventions to help reverse their negative approval ratings. Clinton also still faces the question of whether Bemie Sanders' army of energetic millennials will warm to a nominee who, to many of them, personifies the establishment. Sanders was to appear with Clinton on July 12, raising speculation that he will endorse her.

«- For his part, Trump is battling the last remnants of the Never Trump movement - led by conservatives who can't bring themselves to endorse his insurgent campaign. There's even the prospect of turbulence on the convention floor from those still dismayed that he has captured the nomination, and perhaps even a movement to try to withhold Trump votes on the first ballot.

Protests and beefed up security are always good convention topics, but they figure to be big storylines over the next few weeks in what already has been a turbulent political season.

"My sense is that both of these conventions will be as newsworthy as we've seen in many years," says Sam Feist, Washington bureau chief and senior vice president at CNN. "What you effectively have in both parties is that the convention will be the moment when the party and the nominee need to help stitch the party back together again after a tough primary

The drama has already begun. Later this week, Republicans gather to set convention rules, credentialing, and a party platform that will be important for Trump if he is to dismiss the conversation that anybody could challenge him for the nomination, Feist says. Add to that the expected announcements by Trump and Clinton of their running mates, perhaps in the days preceding the conventions.

Fox News will go full-throttle at both events. Talk show "The Five" is leaving New York on July 15 for a two-week road trip to Cleveland and Philadelphia, with stops along the way. Signature shows such as "Fox & Friends,''"The Kelly File With Megyn Kelly and "Special Report with Bret Baier" will originate from both cities. …

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