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Nets to pols: Let’s party!

TV welcomes same-date political conventions

WASHINGTON — It could be a whole new twist on reality TV. That’s the preliminary word from some news networks as they digested the possibility that, for the first time ever, Democrats and Republicans may hold their 2004 national conventions the same week.

While concerned about the additional cost of dispatching teams to two shows simultaneously, news execs say the piggybacking could energize the stale convention process and provide a much-needed touch of drama.

No broadcast net would ever dare stop covering the election year roundups, but with ratings on a steep decline in recent years, the coverage has turned rote.

“If the conventions were held at the same time, that could produce some excitement,” a news exec said. “You’d have each side competing strategically to put news forward in an effort to grab the headline of the day.”

Brouhaha broke earlier this week when the Republican National Committee announced it would open its 2004 convention on Aug. 30, so as to avoid competing for airtime with the Summer Olympics, slated to bow Aug. 13 in Athens, Greece.

Dems mull countermove

The Democratic National Committee, which had already set its 2004 convention date for July 18, immediately responded by saying it was considering moving back its show to Aug. 30 as well. Otherwise, Dems said the Republicans would gain too much momentum, considering there would be a six-week lapse between the two gatherings.

When locking in the July 18 date last year, DNC chair Terry McAuliffe told party leaders that this would one-up the Republicans, who would be forced to hold their convention right around the time of the Olympics.

But in a classic game of tit-for-tat, the RNC pulled a surprise move and set the Aug. 30 date.

Parties, nets huddle

Over the past 48 hours, officials with both parties have been on the phone with network news execs, discussing the pros and cons of staging dueling conventions. All sides stressed that no decision has been reached.

“One reason to go on top of each other is that with each convention, there is dwindling coverage, since the networks hate giving up primetime spots when there is declining viewership,” a party staffer said.

“The one thing we believe is appealing to the networks is that they only lose one week. We are likely to get better network coverage,” staffer said.

One Republican party operative disagreed, saying there would be less focus by TV journos on one party and that party’s platform.

“If the Democrats think that’s good for democracy, they don’t get it,” the Republican said. “In an era of diminished airtime, it gets even more diminished.”

Even some within the Democratic party agreed with this assessment, saying the Dems need all the primetime attention they can get, since they will in all likelihood be challenging sitting President Bush.

Cost of move unknown

No one was ready to calculate how much more it might cost a news division to staff two conventions at the same time, or how advertisers might respond.

If there were back-to-back shows, it’s likely that the nets would keep their anchors at home, so as to not give one convention an advantage. This could actually be a cost-saver.

There has been a running debate within news divisions about convention coverage, considering that the main purpose of the shows — to nominate the presidential and vice presidential ticket — has long since passed.

“This would make for much more interesting and much better television,” another news exec said. “It’s all become so phony. Why are we paying all this money to do an infomercial?”

The DNC said it will make its decision within the next several weeks.