ABC’s “Nightline” just trumped CNN in the annals of campaign coverage gimmicks. The latenight news show is leasing a helicopter for campaign season dubbed, “The Nightliner,” to ferry Terry Moran between candidate stump sessions in the early primary states.

“It enables you in a real-time way to determine who’s doing better—who do people want to see and what are they saying?” says EP James Goldston. “Who’s got the bigger crowd that day? Who’s on message? If Hillary is having a fight with Obama, who says what and how does the crowd respond?”

The news nets are looking at the 2008 political season as a big chance to build an audience and differentiate, as CNN did with its much-ballyhooed YouTube debate.

"Nightline" producers plan to make it clear to the viewer when "The Nightliner" is on the prowl; Goldston says the show will find a way to brand its fledgling air force even though it will lease it in-state.

Moran says the point is to have “one reporter take the temperature of all the campaigns.”

“Riding along in the bus, you’re in the bubble. Getting above and seeing how communities are impacted by that motorcade … you get a sense of the organic beast that a campaign is.”

"Nightline,” of course, has a number of correspondents who could simultaneously report from the various campaigns, but Goldston says, “There’s something about Terry Moran leaping into a helicopter and flying off that has a distinctiveness that’s appealing.”

“Nightline” begins leasing the helicopter in the fall, and Goldston says the show will keep the engine warm through the spring primary season.

—Michael Learmonth

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