Networks All In as Election Day Turned Into Election Days

From left: CBS's John Dickerson, Norah O'Donnell and Gayle King.
From left: CBS's John Dickerson, Norah O'Donnell and Gayle King (Image credit: CBS News)

With all the madness surrounding 2020, it was only fitting that Election Day would end without a winner decided. The network news-gatherers knew they were in for a long night, and in terms of drama, anxiety and, yes, length, Election Day did not disappoint. 

“This has been unlike any election we’ve covered,” said Norah O’Donnell, CBS Evening News anchor, after CBS coverage began at 7 p.m. ET. 

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The networks were happy to show off their new bells and whistles, be it augmented reality or a new wrinkle to the touch-screen Magic Wall. “Let’s show off our toys here!” said Chuck Todd, NBC News political director, as he clicked to display early, absentee and Election Day voters. 

NBC’s screen hollered “Road to 270.” Hallie Jackson, NBC’s chief White House correspondent, said, “There’s a lot of eyeballs on Pennsylvania tonight.”

Her counterpart at ABC, Jonathan Karl, also cited the Keystone State early in the coverage. “Pennsylvania, be prepared to be patient,” he said. 

On the ABC set, Chris Christie said the early signs “look very good for the president’s prospects in Florida.”

On CNN moments later, John King, chief national correspondent, was focused on Florida as he tweaked the Magic Wall, drilling down on the Sunshine State’s individual counties. “Welcome to the roller coaster that is Florida,” he said.

Steve Kornacki, NBC News national political correspondent, worked the
Magic Wall on MSNBC, diving deep on Ohio counties to see how voting compared to four years ago. 

Todd had other toys to show off on NBC, clicking to display 2016, 2012 and 2008 vote tallies in the Florida counties. “This is the toy I love the best,”
he said.

At 8 p.m. the Fox broadcast network signed on, with anchors Trace Gallagher and Sandra Smith on the desk. On Fox News Channel, Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace noted President Trump was ahead in the popular vote around 8:30. “In the end, some people feel more comfortable with Donald Trump as their leader,” he said. 

Speaking with Broadcasting+Cable before Election Day, CBS News president Susan Zirinsky put the 2020 contest in context. “The election really will determine a very critical period in our nation’s history,” she said. “The impact of what is happening in this election — everything is at stake.

O’Donnell mentioned the “huge, unprecedented turnout” by voters. Added John Dickerson, CBS political analyst, “Democracy is working really, really well.” 

At 10 p.m., CNN teased a Key Race Alert, only to say that several states, including Iowa, Nevada, Utah and Montana, were too early to call.

At 10:30, John King said “there are no surprises on the map thus far.” He cracked, “If Joe Biden can rebuild the Blue Wall, forgive me, Donald Trump will pay for it.”

Ten minutes later, O’Donnell suggested viewers brew a pot of coffee, as the grand conclusion was not coming soon. Ed O’Keefe, CBS News political correspondent, agreed. “Election Days,” he quipped. 

Just before 11 p.m. ET, CNN had Biden at 192 electoral votes and Trump at 108. “It’s easy for a Democrat to get to 192,” said King, but not so much to 270. 

As the night ended it seemed clear it would take days for either candidate to get to 270, at least officially. “We’re just getting started,” King said. “We are just getting started."

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.