It’s 8:28 p.m. on election night in San Diego. On XETV (Channel 6), Sonny Corleone is plotting to avenge the assassination attempt on the Godfather. On KUSI-TV (Channel 51), the Los Angeles Lakers are leading the Golden State Warriors, 53-49, in a key, early-season National Basketball Assn. showdown. Meanwhile, on the three local network affiliates, Michael Dukakis is conceding the presidency to George Bush, signaling the unofficial end of the national election coverage and the beginning of the local marathon coverage.
“That may be the best campaign speech he (Dukakis) has ever given,” said Greg Hurst, manning the KFMB-TV (Channel 8) Quadrangle Star Commander Election Central Chief Chair.
Over at KGTV (Channel 10), Michael Tuck agreed. It was “one of the most eloquent speeches” Dukakis has ever given, he said.
While KNSD-TV (Channel 39) continued to focus on Dukakis, Channel 8 cut to Jody Hammond covering the “Opinion 8" poll. Viewers called in to answer questions just a little more intriguing than “If Bush was a tree, what kind of tree would he be?”
Soon, the Channel 8 Election Night Variety Show turned to Lorraine Kimel’s trip to Washington. Look at Lorraine try on dresses! Look at Lorraine get her hair done by a famous Washington hairdresser! Look at viewers dive for the remote control!
With Jack White hunkered down at Election Central, Channel 10 flashed through election numbers. Channel 10’s graphics, though, failed to note the percentage of total votes the numbers represented. Channel 8’s graphics didn’t mention the percentage either. The poignant early-evening results could have represented .0002% of the votes or 83%.
Channel 39 thought the percentage of votes was worthy enough to include in its graphics. In an impressive display of actually providing information to viewers, Channel 39 even flashed election tallies across the screen during Dukakis’ speech.
Channel 39 seemed to go a step further than its competitors in all areas, maybe even going a step too far by sending reporters to the Dukakis and Bush headquarters in Boston and Houston, respectively. Channel 39 thought the election important enough to build a special set at Election Central, a set with walls so viewers wouldn’t be distracted by the political groupies going crazy in the background.
Unfortunately, they must have run out of wood, because they left a window right in the middle of it, so viewers could be distracted by ranting politicos anyway.
Soon after Dukakis’ speech, Channel 8 cut to Los Angeles, where Chris Saunders was stationed at Democratic Party headquarters. “It’s a real downer here at the Biltmore,” he said.
9:07 p.m.: Michael Corleone is about to avenge the assassination attempt on the Godfather. The Lakers are pulling away. On Channel 11, Little Richard is strutting at the Apollo Theater, and George Bush is telling the world, “God bless America.”
Each local television station had its election-night victories. Channel 10’s Adrienne Alpert was the first to interview Sen. Pete Wilson, and was almost certainly the first television reporter in the state to hear Wilson gloat over his reelection. Channel 39 was the first to interview Mayor Maureen O’Connor and Councilman Ron Roberts. Channel 8 had Larry Mendte at the bowling alley.
Channel 8 was clearly attempting to make the election coverage an entertaining experience. They bounced from CBS network coverage to Jody Hammond interviewing local high school kids, to an update on Kimel’s trip to Washington, to Mark Larson doing his political impersonations, to Mendte wandering around San Diego asking people about the elections.
“Why aren’t you home watching us?” Mendte asked a couple at the bowling alley. “Can you do us a favor and go home?”
All the stations were killing time. A power outage in an Oakland precinct was delaying the release of statewide results. There is nothing scarier than local television stations killing time.
Channel 39 trotted out former Mayor Roger Hedgecock as an analyst. Hedgecock left his mad-dog radio show routine at the studio and provided sharp and insightful looks at the ballot. Despite his arch-conservative babbling on KSDO-AM (1130), he is still an extremely credible observer of local politics, especially on environmental issues. He was more than willing to detail the developers’ “multimillion-dollar scare campaign.”
Sam Popkin provided color analysis for Channel 8, giving some needed weight to the Channel 8 Election Night Variety Show. A professor of political science at UCSD, Popkin was articulate and able to express an opinion, which is more than could be said of Channel 8 media analyst Chuck Buck, who did nothing more than rerun some of the presidential commercials, saying things like, the television commercial campaign “wasn’t outstanding, it was OK.”
Although it did several interviews with politicos, Channel 10 didn’t have an analyst beyond its own John Beatty. Channel 10 took the bold step of acknowledging that nothing was going on, though, switching to network coverage from 9:30-10 p.m.
10:37 p.m.: Channel 6 has switched to “Simon and Simon.” The Laker game is over. Channel 39’s Marty Levin is going after Republican congressional candidate Rob Butterfield.
“Is this the type of (political) process you’d leave to your children?” Levin asked Butterfield, waving a copy of Butterfield’s last-ditch mailer in his face.
Butterfield was gleefully unrepentant and refused even to acknowledge that his defeat was inevitable, with 50% of the precincts reporting.
“I am worried about the conduct of this race,” Levin said. Butterfield smiled.
Of the three anchors occupying the all-important Quadrangle Star Commander Election Central Chief Chair, Levin clearly was the most comfortable. He knew the issues and the players, and seemed to love wallowing in the problems that popped up, referring to the Oakland snafu as “fascinating.” Levin called the ballot measure to establish district elections, which keeps reappearing as an issue, “the Harold Stassen of local issues.”
Hurst was competent as Channel 8’s main traffic director, but he was clearly out of his element. He spouted out trivia about Bush, but he was too stiff, too unable to ask a really important question, to make any lasting impression.
The same probably can be said for the people at Channel 10, whoever they were. They were out there in the trenches, conducting the obligatory shouting-above-the-confusion Election Central interviews, but nobody ever seemed to say anything.
Certainly no one at Channel 10 could top Levin and reporter Dave Owen going through Owen’s button collection. In the scintillating video category, nothing could top Channel 39 cutting to Boston and Houston where, at 3 a.m., Channel 39’s reporters informed us, nothing was going on! It really captured the excitement of the night, to see a janitor sweeping the floor of the Bush headquarters, while Channel 39’s Susan Farrell provided analysis.
11:45 p.m: Channel 10 is showing the Morton Downey Jr. show. On Channel 8, Hurst, Hal Clement and Popkin are interviewing each other.
Channel 39 closed election night coverage in shocking fashion. It actually went through every measure, even the local community measures, and gave up-to-the-minute results. What a strange and wacky idea.