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Conventions in the Time of COVID
August 17, 2020  | By Mike Hughes

Now it's convention time, a two-week stretch when TV is consumed by politics.

Well, sort of.

On Aug. 17-20, the big networks still have plenty of time for Holey MoleyTough as NailsEllen's Game of Games, and five hours of Gordon Ramsay reruns.

Clearly, this is far from the era when the Cronkite/Brokaw teams covered every convention detail.

"I lean in favor of covering more," Judy Woodruff, in her 12th round of convention coverage, told the Television Critics Association recently.

She's at PBS, the only broadcast network that will use all of prime time for the conventions. That will include plenty of background and analysis, she said; PBS won't just "turn it into an infomercial."

That wasn't a problem in the past when conventions included verbal brawls. Then both parties began to control and tidy things; networks backed away.

Over the next couple of weeks, however, anticipate heavy, all-day coverage by CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, C-SPAN, and the online arms of ABC and CBS with three hours (8-11 p.m. ET) on PBS. The traditional broadcast networks – ABC, CBS, and NBC – will be jumping in at 10 p.m. ET.

This year won't be like the old days, when "there was actually some suspense," Woodruff said.

Her first convention, in 1976, came when Gerald Ford wasn't sure of getting the nomination or of his vice-presidential choice. He picked Bob Dole during the convention.

Four years later, there were more VP questions. "Ronald Reagan…kept us all guessing. At one point, there was speculation that he would go with Gerald Ford" as vice-president.

He chose George H.W. Bush. "That has to be my favorite convention," Woodruff said, "because I was so young and dazzled by the whole thing."

She was 33; now, 40 years later, she anchors a PBS NewsHour crew that spans generations.

"We are not a place just about 'What happened?'" said Yamiche Alcindor, 33, the White House correspondent. "It's about why it happened and all the context."

Added Lisa Desjardins, 48, the Capitol Hill correspondent: "We are kind of all a bunch of nerds, …trying to get information and tell stories. We are not trying to get caught up in personal drama."

There may not be much to get caught in, with speakers carefully parceled out to speak the party line.

The Republicans plan to have their formal speakers from 8:30-11 p.m. ET, Aug. 24-27, culminating with Donald Trump; specifics are pending.

The Democrats begin their virtual convention from Aug. 17-20, from approximately 9-11 p.m. ET. The current schedule, subject to change, will include:

Beginning at 9 p.m. ET, speakers will include Senator Amy Klobuchar, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Representative Jim Clyburn, Representative Gwen Moore, Senator Doug Jones, and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich (a Republican).

At 10 p.m. ET will be keynote speeches from Senator Bernie Sanders and former First Lady Michelle Obama.

Beginning at 9 p.m. ET, speakers will include former acting U.S. attorney general Sally Yates, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, former secretary of State John Kerry, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester, and former president Bill Clinton.

The "Roll Call Across America" will begin as votes are cast to nominate Joe Biden as the official Democratic Party candidate for the 2020 presidential election.

The roll call will be followed by the evening's "keynote address" given by 17 of the party's "rising stars."

At 10 p.m. ET, the keynote speech will be delivered by former Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

Beginning at 9 p.m. ET, speakers will include Speaker Nancy Pelosi, former secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Governor Tony Evers, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, and former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

At 10 p.m. ET, the keynote speeches will be given by Senator Kamala Harris and former president Barack Obama.

At 9 p.m. ET, former vice-president Joe Biden, Senator Cory Booker, Governor Gavin Newsom, former mayor Pete Buttigieg, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Senator Tammy Baldwin, Senator Tammy Duckworth, Senator Chris Coons, and former presidential candidate Andrew Yang.

Finally, at 10 p.m. ET, former vice-president Joe Biden will give his acceptance speech.

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