Debate Analysis Can’t Resist Primetime Analogies

For the past few weeks, TV viewers have been treated to a quartet of presidential (and vice presidential) debates.

Or as pundits have insisted on calling it, “Riveting primetime drama.”

Even seasoned op-ed columnists can seldom resist equating such events to TV
shows, mostly because TV is how we’ve been programmed to process the

The latest comparison along those lines came from New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, who wrote, “In aggregate these presidential debates gave us sublime drama, the first
one scrambling the race’s momentum, the second one flavored with enough
disdain to fill a ‘Real Housewives’ season, and Monday night’s reprising
that ill will without quite replicating it.”

Well, hell, how is “Elementary” supposed to measure up to all that?

In practical terms, the debates have been another complicating element in the fall rollout of new primetime programs, one I suspect network entertainment honchos, anyway, will be more than happy to see recede into the rear-view mirror.

The debate commission did spread the pain around: The four debates preempted one Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, disruptions which (coupled with playoff baseball coverage) have made a clear read on the fall TV season’s ratings even harder to grasp. (There’s a great story about then-ABC President Dan Burke complaining when there were initial plans in 1992 for four Tuesday-night debates, which at that time would have preempted the network’s strongest lineup.)

There will be one more night of across-the-board preemptions, of course, on election night. And while the fate of the republic hangs in the balance, that’s small comfort if you’re the producers of “The Mindy Project” or “The New Normal.”

Then again, if those shows were as consistently funny as some of the more ridiculous aspects of the campaign, they’d have nothing to worry about.


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