March 5, 2008 / 12:43 AM / 10 years ago

TV networks brace for primary push

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - The networks are trotting out their big stars for Tuesday’s key primaries in Texas and Ohio, as the duel between Democratic challengers Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama reaches fever pitch.

CBS Evening News anchor and 60 Minutes correspondent Katie Couric smiles in Washington September 25, 2007. REUTERS/Molly Riley

CBS’ Katie Couric will be in Ohio and ABC’s Charles Gibson in Texas. NBC’s Brian Williams will stay in New York. Once more, the networks’ decision desks will get a workout. The cable channels, for instance, are planning nonstop coverage through the night, and the broadcasters are scheduling brief updates during primetime.

Turnout is expected to be strong in the four states — Ohio and Texas, as well as in Vermont and Rhode Island, the other two states voting on Tuesday. Polls close in Ohio at 7:30 p.m. EST and all voting in Texas will be over by 9 p.m. EST.

Opinion polls show Clinton and Obama in tight races in both Ohio and Texas — the biggest prizes.

But one thing seems certain: If the campaign continues to have the same fevered life beyond Tuesday, then there will be a big push for at least one more debate between Obama and Clinton. It’s likely that ABC and NBC are vying for the next debate, if there is one, to be held somewhere in Philadelphia. Neither NBC nor ABC would comment about the possibility.

The networks, seeing the success of the most recent debates on CNN and MSNBC, are likely to want to continue that practice before the next big battleground, the April 22 primary in Pennsylvania.

“I think everybody’s waiting to see what happens (tonight), and after that there will be renewed interest,” said CNN political director Sam Feist. The last primaries are June 3 in Montana, New Mexico and South Dakota.

The 2008 campaign has been very, very good for the cable and broadcast news divisions. Each of the cable channels has enjoyed strong ratings in and around primary coverage and debates, with CNN scoring several cable records and ABC’s Democratic debate before the New Hampshire primary also a record-breaker.

Network executives are playing it close to the vest about the immediate future of the coverage. They simply don’t know what’s going to happen Tuesday.

“We plan to look at how it stands on Wednesday morning,” ABC News political director David Chalian said.

But even if the Democratic nominee is settled soon, it doesn’t mean cable networks think the interest is going to drop off completely.

“I don’t see why we can’t keep going (in the ratings),” said NBC News senior vp Phil Griffin. “Our ratings have been very good for the last nine months with all the debates and all the interest in the campaign.”

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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