Election night is like the Super Bowl for News people. It’s been months, even years in the making with two teams (In the US at least) fighting it out for a victory. Each and every network does its best to trump the competition, whether by adding new technology, more guests at the desk or just by being FIRST. There is a constant scramble to be first AND right, which isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Thankfully, the methods have become much more stream-lined since the days of Dewey defeats Truman. Having one of those happen on in the blogosphere of today might in fact cause the internet itself to crash.
What is always fascinating to watch is how different narratives are tried out over the course of the days before Election night. In a world with so much data, their are projections on who will win each and every race WAY before he polls even open. In most cases, two types of graphics are ordered, one for each result. The losing graphic gets cast in to the same abyss as the losing team’s Super Bowl merchandise. They most likely go to unsuspecting people who will still believe the Patriots finished an undefeated season with a win against the Giants since they have the T-shirt.
With the advent of twitter, there are now people dedicated strictly to scanning the web for tweets from politicians, from poll stations, from anywhere honestly. In most work environments, they’d be fired for spending all their time on social media, but on tonight especially, they are vital parts of the team.
The use, for instance, of stand-ins for various politicians is another practice in altered reality. Take for example, a young black intern standing in for an old white politician and attempting to answer questions the same way. It’s their goal to take up the place and amount of time that will be given to the guest come broadcast time, so there is a lot of filler talk to get the required 3-4 minutes. Some of the stand-ins answers end up so close to the actual ones that it begins to show how scripted many of these talking points really are.
Others work the phones and their computers getting results and shouting them to their bosses who are constantly updating the results board. There is a certain electricity in the air as results come flying in within minutes of polls closing. As 9 and 10pm hits, it looks like a Republican wave is on the way. Time to dump all those Democrats Keep The Senate graphics.
Correspondents and reports all over the country check in, some at cheering crowds gathering for a victory, others at now empty rooms where a losing candidate’s signs are being quickly taken down.
The staging department have spent many long hours re-dressing the set with the appropriate banners and bunting to give the night a more exciting feeling. Everywhere you look, there is an atmosphere of how different and unique this night is. It’s not just another episode of television. There are echoes to history, to elections and broadcasts of the past to serve as a guide and reminder of what we are all doing here.
Election nights are usually long, drawn out affairs which makes for long, often overlapping hours for the crew and production team. Though most people would find it crazy to work say a 48 hours straight shift, this can also be a golden ticket for many as it approaches the mythic “Continuous Time” which is when you are working long hours with short turn-arounds and are essentially being paid overtime every single hour. As highlighted by a previous blog post, so long as you do it correctly, you can achieve this and still live to enjoy it:
What’s also fun is that Election nights end up being a sort of class reunion with various anchors and crew all working together on a single project. Usually, you may see the people in the hallways between shifts but this gives everyone the opportunity to actually work together. A lot of time gets passed just catching up on old friends and refreshing friendships since very rarely do the schedules match up.
These nights take on a feeling of greater importance due to the sheer size and pageantry of it all. Instead of just a 5 cameras, how about 12? Why not two steadi-cams? How about 8 anchors instead of 2? Everything is bigger and better. Though, this is usually better in theory than in practice.
As the night drags on, you have people speaking over one another since they aren’t all used to sharing screen-time or even the rhythms of how they ask questions. Likewise, the crew begin to get a bit punchy as with so many cameras, lights, mics and such, people begin to get in each other’s way. More than one screaming match happens in the commercial break though thankfully nothing further really comes of it.
Results begin to trickle through, everyone gets a bit looser, especially as the west coast broadcast gets prepared. By this point, most people have been up nearly 24 hours, many having worked almost straight through. Nothing cuts the tension and feeling of being tired better than the steady stream of snacks and meals that are brought in. Whereas on many days even getting some water may be a bit of an issue, on big events, full spreads of sandwichs, drinks and especially desserts are in full demand.
As each commercial hits, there is an exodus from the studio and control room to grab whatever isn’t tied down to eat. Anything with sugar or caffeine is needed to keep the energy level up and going.
There are moments of real laughter as well, as with so many people in a space, everyone is a lot more chatty. When a certain Senator or guest comes on and is a drip or just talking solemnly on, you feel everyone in the room getting a bit fed up together and as soon as the interview ends and mics are shut, the insults begin to fly. Nothing cuts up a room better than having an anchor, producer or director say, “Asshole” as soon as an interview ends with a particularly difficult guest.
As the night draws to a close and it becomes clear that one party is having a better night, the talk inevitably begins to turn to the NEXT election, as if this one cannot just stand on its own. It is the very nature of politics as well as TV itself that the narrative must never actually end. Speculation for who will run in 2016 is already perking up just as most of the crew is tuning out.
Finally, the night ends and many people rush in to congratulate everyone involved. It feels great to have your hard work and dedication recognized as well as knowing the job was done well. Frankly though, most people just wander out quickly and quietly, searching for a bed to crash on for a few hours. Dawn is nearly approaching and the news doesn’t stop.
Better rest up, 2016 is on the way.