WASHINGTON – ABC, CBS and NBC are planning similar prime-time coverage of the political conventions, scheduling a single hour on three nights of each event.
The networks' news divisions plan to supplement broadcasts with Internet, radio, digital television and cable coverage of both national conventions — the Democrats in Boston July 26-29 and the Republicans in New York Aug. 30-Sept. 2.
Unlike elections past, when the political meetings would enjoy gavel-to-gavel coverage, the conventions have become heavily orchestrated events and rarely the place of newsmaking. Networks began cutting airtime in the 1980s, and by 1996 parties usually had to make do with one hour a night of free television to court party enthusiasts and feature political stars.
ABC's "Nightline" host Ted Koppel, speaking Monday before the Television Critics Association (search) in Los Angeles, justified the slimmed-down coverage, saying conventions have become staged "publicity-making machines" for both parties. Koppel walked out of the GOP convention in 1996 and skipped the Democratic one that year to "make a statement that conventions had significantly changed."
Networks have since turned to new technology to bring more coverage to those who want it.
"I really do think it is our responsibility to give the parties an opportunity to put their spokesmen in front of the American people," said Peter Jennings, who will anchor ABC's coverage.
NBC's Tom Brokaw will anchor the conventions for a final time, while Dan Rather fills his familiar role for CBS.
The networks plan their first hour of live coverage at 10 p.m. EDT July 26. They will all broadcast the acceptance speeches from the presidential and vice presidential nominees from Boston and New York.
ABC is offering affiliates round-the-clock coverage through its digital television spectrum from July 26 through election night, with Jennings anchoring 19 additional convention hours. A special digital television tuner is required to pick up the signal, although many local stations have deals with cable companies to carry the channel on digital cable services.
CBS plans live gavel-to-gavel webcasts of all sessions, available free on its Web site. NBC, meanwhile, will broadcast five hours live each night of the conventions on cable channel MSNBC.
Brit Hume will serve as anchor for FOX News Channel, which will air live from Boston from 3-5 p.m. and 6-11 p.m. EDT with updates during the day, said spokesman Paul Schur. He said Fox is increasing its convention coverage by about a third compared with 2000.
CNN will broadcast live from Boston until 1 a.m. each night, interspersing coverage with other news reports, said spokeswoman Edie Emery. The cable channel will also offer updates during the day and will be shifting its news shows, including "Inside Politics" and "Larry King Live," to the convention city. New York coverage will be similar.
Anchored by Jim Lehrer, PBS has said it will broadcast from 8-11 p.m. EDT every night of both conventions.