MSNBC set up for New Hampshire
Cynthia Littleton

MANCHESTER, New Hampshire — The TV production tents are on ice — literally — outside the Radisson Hotel in downtown Manchester today as news crews prepare for action in the first-in-the-nation primary on Tuesday.

The snowfall last week made for chilly temperatures in the tents housing equipment and some personnel for NBC News, ABC News and other outlets. Inside the hotel, news orgs have overrun the lobby and restaurant area.

A Bloomberg News suite is carefully marked “invitation-only.” MSNBC has taken over JD’s Tavern with plans to produce its daytime shows from the bar attached to the Radisson’s restaurant starting on Monday. Today’s edition of NBC’s “Meet the Press” originated from the hotel’s Armory Ballroom.

In the Radisson restaurant this morning, virtually every patron had a news credential hanging around his or her neck. Production staffers have been in the hotel long enough that server Jackie can guess what they want for breakfast.

Like Iowa last week, the investment in establishing a big presence in New Hampshire is a no-brainer for major news organizations.

“These early states set the pace for coverage down the road,” said Kevin Tully, an NBC News producer with a unit based in Charlotte, N.C. More candidates at this stage of the game demand more dynamic coverage, he said.

The heightened interest in the 2016 contest among viewers and the hyperactive media climate also fuels the drive for round-the-clock coverage.

Mark Halperin, co-host and exec producer of Showtime’s primary-season docu series “The Circus” and managing editor of Bloomberg Politics, cited the competitive races in both parties and the fact that the country is coming off three consecutive two-term presidencies for the first time ever. Moreover, characters like Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump offer compelling narratives.

“People are interested in the uncertainty of a horse race,” Halperin told Variety. “There’s more uncertainty about this race on the Republican side than any other race I’ve ever covered.”

The chatter at the Radisson’s breakfast tables this morning was not about today’s Super Bowl but about who won and who flopped at Saturday’s night’s GOP debate hosted by ABC News, and the comedic merits of the Bernie Sanders-related sketches on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” “Bern Your Enthusiasm,” the mash-up of the Sanders campaign and host Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” got many thumbs up.

But some production vets were critical of ABC News’ decision to put a camera on debate participants as they walked down the corridor to the stage. That led to an awkward moment for candidate Ben Carson, who stopped in confusion on his way to his podium, and allowed Jeb Bush a GIF-worthy clip of hustling past Donald Trump with a pat on the shoulder and a smirk.

The intense media focus on the results of voting in New Hampshire and Iowa as a pace-setter for the presidential contest is often criticized because both are small states with populations that are more homogeneous than the country at large. But in Halperin’s view, the compact size of the electorate in the two early-bird states offers advantages that benefit the entire nation over the long haul.

“Until other states step up and prove they can have human-scale interaction between voters and candidates (with) voters who pay attention to issues, those two states are doing the country a great service,” he said. “In New Hampshire you can have a candidate event at 10 in the morning on a snowy day and people will come prepared to ask tough questions and expect detailed answers. That’s a valuable gift to the rest of the country.”

(Pictured: MSNBC production team preparing to broadcast from JD’s Tavern in Manchester, New Hampshire)

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