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Here comes the sun

Our long national nightmare of an election will be one for the history books. And while we all would have preferred a clear winner to the political equivalent of
, democracy can be a messy process as practiced by fallible and often partisan humans (the phrases "warts and all" and "making sausage" leap to mind). It can also make for some high TV drama as witness the oral arguments in Florida's Supreme Court last week.

The much-alluded-to sunshine in which Florida conducts its business, including cameras in the courts, has allowed us all to be witnesses to political history in a way impossible just a few years ago. Not impossible because the technology wasn't available, but because the technology was excluded. The pictures of agonizing canvass-board members and Democrat-appointed judges sharply questioning Bush

Gore advocates told a story more about process than partisanship. We think those pictures were a bright spot in what has become an increasingly ugly battle for the presidency. In a story that has been so much spin and counter-spin, to see some of the legal machinery at work has been reassuring, even inspiring. Millions of viewers were able to render their own verdicts as they waited for the official one. We are certain that the televised proceedings did much to erase the bad aftertaste of the televised O.J Simpson trial.

We need to spread some of that Florida sunshine around. It is past time that the federal appellate courts, including the Supreme Court, allow cameras. It's already the 21st Century (or almost, if you ask Arthur C. Clark), and the federal courts are still stuck in the 19th. If this election battle moves into federal courts, the shadow of that proceeding will be in stark contrast to the openness of Florida. Along with improved voting procedures and clearer Florida election laws, we'd like to see this legal fight fuel a push for cameras in federal courts. This clouded political picture needs all the silver linings we can find.

P. S. While we're at it, you'll notice the Big Three broadcast networks didn't have to be told to drop their regular fare to carry the oral arguments before the Florida high court. They did so because it was a critical moment in an unprecedented presidential election that had gone deep into overtime without clear rules. Put simply, it was news. Let's hope that public-interest advocates who continue to demand free time from TV stations for their own idea of political discourse were watching.

Two-way or the highway

Like the videophone, interactive television has been one of those endlessly-vaunted technologies that just never seemed to pan out. Until now. From the issue of open access to the fight over separating security and surfing functions in set-tops to the growing cottage industry in turning TV sets into PC emulators, two-way cable TV appears to be reaching something approaching critical mass. The battle over two-way access to viewers could well frame the debates in Washington for months if not years to come.

We were struck by the companies lining up at this year's Western Show in Los Angeles to turn the TV into an e-mail monitor or family photo album, not to mention the interactive games and shopping (OK, we did mention them). Given this multitasking TV scenario, is it any wonder broadcasters are looking at digital business models that incorporate ancillary services. In the world unfolding at the Western Show, the broadcaster model of a single ad-supported channel looks like a Model T.