×

How Midterms Went Mainstream on TV News

Marc Burstein has been covering elections since 1998. Now the ABC News executive is gearing up for what he believes will be an event of seismic proportions.

The 2018 midterm elections on Nov. 6 were always going to be contentious, says Burstein, ABC News senior executive producer of special events, but in the wake of the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, Republican and Democratic voters are energized in ways that no one had previously anticipated.

“I think this is absolutely the biggest midterm election in my time — and maybe a generation,” says Burstein. “We are treating this as if it were a presidential election.”

There’s good reason to pull out all the stops. Viewership is likely to be intense, just as it was for the news networks’ coverage of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s September hearing of testimony from then-Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused him of sexually assaulting her when they were attending high school in the 1980s. Sure, the cable-news nets gave the event wall-to-wall coverage, but NBC, ABC, CBS and PBS also preempted game shows, kiddie fare and talk shows to present the spectacle.

Not all of the coverage is limited to the election itself. CNN, for example, will present a debate and a town hall meeting with candidates in two of the most consequential races in the weeks leading up to the midterms. On Oct. 18, the AT&T-owned cable-news outlet will broadcast a town hall event featuring Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic challenger for the Texas Senate seat now held by Republican Ted Cruz. (CNN says Cruz has declined to take part in the event.) And on Oct. 21, the network will present a debate between Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, vying for the Florida governor’s seat that Republican Rick Scott is vacating in his run for the Senate.

Some networks will use the coverage to test new methods. ABC News will tap FiveThirtyEight, the stats-and-analysis site run by Nate Silver that it purchased from corporate cousin ESPN in April, to augment its report, says Burstein.

But all of the nets will be focused on the big night. NBC News will rely on Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie, Chuck Todd and Megyn Kelly, while MSNBC will have Rachel Maddow, Brian Williams and Nicolle Wallace anchor primetime coverage. Fox News Channel’s election cablecast will be co-anchored by Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, with contributions from Chris Wallace, Brit Hume, Dana Perino, Shannon Bream and Juan Williams. ABC News coverage will be led by George Stephanopoulos, with contributions from David Muir, Martha Raddatz, Amy Robach and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. CBS This Morning co-hosts Norah O’Donnell, Gayle King, John Dickerson and Bianna Golodryga, and CBS Evening News anchor Jeff Glor will lead CBS primetime election coverage, while CBSN, the CBS News streaming-video hub, will launch coverage at 5 p.m. on Election Day.

But the news networks aren’t the only ones getting in on the act. Some of TV’s late-night programs are also gravitating toward the midterms.

At CBS, Stephen Colbert will be hosting a live broadcast of “The Late Show” on election night, continuing a tradition of doing the show live around big events of national importance. Seth Meyers’ Nov. 6 broadcast of NBC’s “Late Night” — with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes as one of his guests — will be live, as will Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” led by Trevor Noah. Does Noah think the midterms are important? The title of the broadcast tells you all you need to know: “Democalypse 2018: Let’s Try This Again, America.”

RELATED VIDEO:

More TV

  • A.P. BIO -- Pilot -- Pictured:

    'A.P. Bio' Revived for Forthcoming NBCUniversal Streaming Service

    “A.P Bio” has made the grade after all, with NBCUniversal reviving the comedy for its unnamed, still-unlaunched streaming service. The NBC series, which ran for two seasons before getting canceled, performed well online, according to the network, with ratings showing a long tail on streaming platforms as new viewers came to the show late. Nearly [...]

  • Jeffrey Epstein

    'Morning Joe' Airs Archival Footage Linking Jeffrey Epstein and Donald Trump

    President Donald Trump told reporters recently that he hasn’t spoken to disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein in more than a decade and that he was “never a fan” of the one-time banking wunderkind and accused sex-trafficker. But footage aired Wednesday morning on “Morning Joe” appears to suggest some of what Trump said wasn’t accurate. The footage [...]

  • Veronica Mars -- "Spring Break Forever"

    'Veronica Mars' Team Talks Leaning Into Noir Mystery for Hulu Series

    After three seasons on broadcast television in the mid-aughts, followed by a fan-funded feature film, “Veronica Mars” is heading to Hulu with an eight-episode standalone season and, most importantly, a new mystery. “I don’t want it to be a nostalgia show,” creator Rob Thomas tells Variety. “Kristen [Bell] says she would do it until it’s [...]

  • Alicia Keyes Kyle Jarrow

    Alicia Keys, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul to Exec Produce Showtime Musical Drama

    There’s music in the air for Showtime. The premium cable network has made a series commitment to a yet-to-be-titled musical drama series executive produced by Alicia Keys, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. The series, which will be produced by Fox 21 Television Studios, “traverses generations to tell an emotionally complex family story that interweaves modern-day [...]

  • ‘Eisenhorn’ Series Based on ‘Warhammer 40,000’

    ‘Eisenhorn’ Series Based on ‘Warhammer 40,000’ in the Works From Frank Spotnitz

    “Eisenhorn,” a live-action series based on the “Warhammer 40,000” game and books is in the works. “The X-Files” exec producer Frank Spotnitz will be showrunner. His shingle, Big Light, has teamed with Games Workshop, which owns “Warhammer 40,000” to develop the property. Billed as a genre-bending sci-fi and fantasy series, “Eisenhorn” is set in the [...]

  • gordon-ramsay-masterclass-review

    Gordon Ramsay and Studio Ramsay Return to WME for Representation

    Superstar TV chef Gordon Ramsay has returned to WME for representation after eight years with CAA. WME will represent Ramsay and his production company, Studio Ramsay, in all areas. Ramsay is one of the most recognizable names in the culinary world after establishing himself as a TV star in the U.K. and U.S. Studio Ramsay [...]

  • Daphne Oz leaving the chew

    Fox Renews 'MasterChef Junior,' Adds Daphne Oz as Judge

    “MasterChef Junior” will return for an eighth season with new judge Daphne Oz. Oz will replace Christina Tosi on the judges’ panel, joining chefs Gordon Ramsay and Aaron Sanchez to crown the next winner in the new season. In the upcoming season, the young contestants will cook up meals at locations including a renaissance fair [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content