DAVID BIANCULLI

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ERIC GOULD

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LINDA DONOVAN

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Republican Convention, Hurricane Season, Fall Season -- Split-Screen Scrambles Everywhere You Look
September 1, 2008  | By David Bianculli
 

Last Wednesday night, while most network anchors and analysts were focusing on the evening's Democratic National Convention speeches by Bill Clinton and Joe Biden, NBC's Brian Williams looked ahead to the Republican event, and to the threat of Hurricane Gustav bearing down on New Orleans -- and warned of the very real possibility of the Republicans having to deal with "a split-screen convention."

Very prescient. Very smart. And for the Republicans, potentially disastrous...

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So instead of a split-screen convention today, with shots of Republican speakers and delegates on one side and hurricane-force winds on the other, John McCain has called off his own party's party, at least for day one. The last thing the Republican party needs is to convene with funny hats in the Twin Cities while water levels in New Orleans rise again, reminding everyone of government inaction in 2005.

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McCain's instincts, in this case, are correct. Anderson Cooper already is reporting from the streets of the French Quarter, rather than from St. Paul -- and on tonight's evening newscasts, all three anchors are expected to follow suit. The RNC, at least on the day Gustav makes landfall, is not the "A" story.

C-SPAN will cover the stripped-down, basic parliamentary necessities occurring today at the convention, beginning at 4 p.m. ET. But by prime time, the hall should be quiet. No speeches, no speakers. No one-hour summations and addresses for the broadcast networks to present. And for McCain, that's a plus, not a minus.

Tonight's speakers were scheduled to include President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sen. Joe Lieberman. Because of Hurricane Gustav, alll four of those speakers have been erased from the schedule. Not postponed. Erased.

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Presto! The current administration's most powerful leaders -- the ones most responsible for both the response to Katrina and and the invasion of Iraq -- are no-shows. Schwarzenegger and Lieberman, neither of whom pleases the conservative side of the Republican base, are silenced. McCain and company, I'm guessing, are celebrating (but only in private) like little kids on a snow day from school. Bush, too.

But where does this leave the broadcast networks covering these events? CBS, NBC and ABC should devote their convention-reserved hours tonight for news specials, but if one of them blinks and presents an entertainment-show rerun instead, that'll say a lot about that network's priorities, and greed.

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Finally, at the same time, the broadcast and cable networks are paving the way to launch a new fall TV season. TNT's new legal series from Steven Bochco, Raising the Bar, premieres tonight at 10 p.m. ET, but it's too tepid and clunky to get or deserve much notice. The CW presents season premieres of Gossip Girl and One Tree Hill tonight, Fox devotes its prime time to the return of Prison Break -- and NBC promises the first-ever million-dollar winner on Deal or No Deal. weather-gustav.jpg(So much for suspense. And it had to stack the deck with five $1-million slots to do it.)

But the split-screen effect is at work here, too. All these TV events -- storms, politics and entertainment -- are fighting for attention on this particular Labor Day. And on this day, Gustav wins. But by cancelling the most problematic lineup of his convention, McCain wins, too.

 
 
 
 
 
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