Democrats hope unconventional travelogue entices viewers

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In this image from video, Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., speaks during the state roll call vote on second night of the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. (Democratic National Convention via AP)

NEW YORK – An unexpected travelogue connected as a television event during the second night of the Democrats' virtual convention, livening up a show that so far is struggling in the ratings.

The roll call vote that formally sealed Joe Biden's nomination as the Democratic candidate for president Tuesday came from sites in the 50 states and territories. Biden received votes from the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama and from the parents of murdered hate crime victim Matthew Shepard in Wyoming.

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It became a guessing game for viewers: Where will my state's delegates speak from? Washington Post editor Tanya Sichynsky tweeted that it was “the most any of us have traveled in months.”

“It's like the Olympic parade of nations,” tweeted NBC's Kasie Hunt, “which I so missed this year.”

It made the ABC and CBS decisions to cut away from the roll call to show portions of former President Bill Clinton's address feel like old hat. None of Tuesday's speakers had the immediate impact of former First Lady Michelle Obama on Monday night.

The nomination was marked by a Zoom-like outbreak of applause and streamers tossed at Biden and his wife, Jill, as Kool & The Gang's “Celebration” played in the background.

“Not quite the same,” said ABC's George Stephanopoulos.

Democrats have worked to produce a relentlessly theme-driven facsimile, but it still isn't a television event like past conventions. Television viewership for Monday's first night was sharply down compared with the opening of Hillary Clinton's nomination week in 2016.

An estimated 19.7 million people watched Monday's coverage between 10 and 11 p.m. on some 10 different television networks, the Nielsen company said. Four years ago, opening night drew just under 26 million viewers.

The Biden campaign claimed their event was a hit online, with campaign spokesman T.J. Ducklo saying an additional 10 million people streamed live video of the convention on various platforms. Those numbers could not immediately be independently verified.

Broadcast networks were hit hardest by the changed format. NBC's telecast drew 2.28 million viewers, down from 4.29 million four years ago, Nielsen said. ABC reached 2.44 million people on Monday, compared to 4.13 million.

The left-leaning MSNBC, where Rachel Maddow, Joy Reid and Nicolle Wallace were anchors, led the way Monday with 5.1 million viewers, up from four years ago. CNN had 4.78 million. Unlike the broadcasters, the two cable networks ran the Democrats' production nearly in its entirety.

Fox News Channel's audience was unimpressed; the 2.1 million viewers it reached for its hour of convention coverage compared poorly with the 3.4 million viewers that time slot occupant Laura Ingraham had on an average July day. Earlier in the evening, Fox kept to its regular lineup with Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity criticizing the Biden campaign, instead of showing news coverage of the convention.

Veteran television producer Don Mischer, whose credits include the Oscars, the Emmys and the 2004 Democratic national convention, said that while the convention's first night was well-produced, it suffered from the lack of a live audience.

While Obama “hit a home run” with her speech, “had that been done in front of the crowd, with the crowd's emotion getting stronger and stronger as she went through that speech, by the time she got to the end, there would have been a rush of palpable emotion that would have resonated with people many times greater than what came across,” he said.

Republicans will take their shot next week in nominating President Donald Trump for a second term.


Television writer Lynn Elber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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