Election Watch: Our Man In Washington Favorite Things

You could almost feel the broadcast network news departments chomping at the bit.

ABC News convinced the network to give it a half-hour head start on its initial 10 p.m. start time for its–and the other broadcast networks election coverage. But by the time even ABC got on the air, CNN and Fox had already been calling races and toting up the numbers.I think they should have given everybody a half-hour at 8 to plant their flags, but this is sweeps, of course….

Remember the days when the night was given over to Huntley and Brinkely and Cronkite, the gravitas so thick you could cut it with a razor-thin margin in a swing state?

The exit polls appeared to get it about right this time, calling big gains for Democrats, who were delivering at press time.

Things I liked:

Fox's excellent precinct-by-precinct analysis of the uncounted votes in the Virginia race as it tightened. "It may be a late night. It may be a long November," said Carl Cameron of a razor-thin margin heading toward recountland. Nice.

CNN's balance-of-power pointer graphic with a red bar on one side, a blue bar on the other, and a pointer in the middle to indicate when one of the bars reached critical mass of majority. I also liked its countdown clock, a huge, football scoreboard-like digital clock that let us know when the polls were closing and CNN could start calling individual races.

Tom Brokaw's appearance on NBC, which provided some instant gravitas plus earned NBC plenty of nostalgia points from old fans.

The Daily Show's virtual fly-in to the Capital post-signs pointing toward "fatcats" in one direction and "crumbums" in the other.

Winner-in-a-walk Hillary Clinton's Canary yellow suit. Snappy.

Things I didn't like:

The constant invocation of Tip O'Neil's "all politics is local" to point out that in this election, it wasn't (exit polls suggested national issues like corruption, terrorism and Iraq trumped local issues).

The reflection of the big board graphics in the glossy desk at NBC's election headquarters. The upside down, mirror image was a tad distracting.

The absence of folksy colloquialisms on CBS, which used to be home–for 44 years–to the animated commentary of Dan Rather. Daily Show to the rescue, however: Rather appeared on Jon Stewart's show, where he was coaxed into a couple of Ratherisms. Hillary Clinton ran away with her race like "a hobo with a sweet potato pie." The George Allen/Jim Webb race in Virginia was "as ugly as a hog groom after a bachelor party." And Rather said he felt like "a four-dollar gopher in a two-dollar pelt."

The graphics-in-motion everywhere. No graphic can just sit there. It has to scroll or twist or have elements moving in opposite directions across the screen. Everybody has to do it these days, as though it is imperative to constantly hold the attention of a nation of attention deficits.

Most Unusual Graphic:

Steven Colbert's "Catastrophometer," which measured Democrat victories on a scale that alternated between Jesus and Osama Bin Laden (don't ask).

By John Eggerton