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THE TV COLUMN

66.8 million TV viewers vote to watch election

By Michael Storey

This article was published November 15, 2012 at 4:00 a.m.

— This may be a few days late, but it’s the first opportunity since Nielsen Media crunched the numbers that I’ve had to answer the e-mail about TV’s election night coverage.

If you stayed up to the wee hours of Nov. 7 to take it all in, you were not alone, but many viewers turned in early.

Nielsen reports an estimated 66.8 million watched one of the 13 broadcast or cable networks that were covering the voting.

The broadcast and cable outlets included ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, PBS, Univision, Telemundo, CNBC, CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, Current TV and TV One.

As impressive as the numbers are, they didn’t match the record 71.5 million who tuned in for the historic 2008 returns.

Bragging rights? More people watched NBC than any other outfit during prime time. The Peacock network boasted 12.6 million viewers between 7 and 10 p.m. Fox News Channel was just behind at 11.45 million — the best average in the channel’s 16 years.

Here are the other leaders in descending order with the millions of viewers in parentheses: ABC (10.52); CNN (9.25); CBS (7.92); Fox (4.93); and MSNBC (4.7).

However, simply tallying prime time is misleading since President Barack Obama wasn’t declared the winner until shortly after 10 p.m.

If you care about the bitter cable rivals (and only the Fox News faithful are truly passionate about their rightleaning channel), Fox News won the night.

Or CNN won. It depends on how you want to spin it.

Between 6 and 11 p.m., Fox News trounced CNN 10.6 million to 8.9 million. Once Obama won, Fox News viewers turned out the lights and went to bed.

Count noses a bit later — between 6 p.m. and 1 a.m. (which included Obama’s victory speech and Mitt Romney’s gracious concession) — then CNN has the barest of leads at 8.8 million to 8.7 million.

We were switching back and forth at our house and witnessed some entertaining episodes, most of them on Fox News as the mood darkened and the predicted suspense fizzled.

Unlike scripted TV, news channels can’t manufacture real drama if there isn’t any to be found. That doesn’t stop them from trying with their spinning graphics, magic maps, pontificating pundits and states flashing red and blue. But it mostly comes off as silly, comical or a waste of time.

Most of the election night action began at 10 when the Obama dominoes started to fall. The topper was Ohio, or as the state is officially called now, “the Battleground State of Ohio,” when it went for Obama and put him over the needed 270 electoral votes.

When Ohio was declared (seemingly early), Fox News commentator Karl Rove grew querulous and argued vociferously (using baffling precinct numbers and convoluted mathematical prognostications) that it was too soon to call.

Anchor Megyn Kelly played devil’s advocate, turned to Rove and asked, “Is this just math you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better?”

Oh, snap. Ouch.

What followed was the best theatrics of election night. Fox cameras followed the leggy Kelly as she was dispatched on the long trek to the “decision desk” in the bowels of the building to confront the official Fox predictors.

The geeky pencil pushers (actually they had a couple of dozen computers) gamely stuck by their Ohio blue state guns, answering Rove’s unfathomable wonkish mumbo jumbo with equally impressive wonkish mumbo jumbo.

The Fox decision makers hunkered around the Fox decision desk turned out to be accurate.

Another buzz-worthy scenario involved ABC’s Diane Sawyer. Twitterers started tweeting as time went on that Sawyer seemed tipsy on camera. Maybe even outright plastered.

We didn’t watch ABC, so I can’t report firsthand. I have seen tape of her performance, however, and she just seemed hyped up on caffeine and scrambling to fill time — lots of time — in between actual news, probably while some producer chatted away in her earpiece.

But Sawyer is also a wellknown liberal Democrat, so she must also have been giddy with excitement as well.

Finally, one reader told me that he “got smart” this year and watched stuff he’d saved on his DVR until 10 p.m. before turning to election coverage.

“That way,” he wrote, “they finally had some news to report and I was spared all the vapid silliness of the talking heads.”

Sounds like a plan to me.

The TV Column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. E-mail:

mstorey@arkansasonline.com

Weekend, Pages 34 on 11/15/2012

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