Networks set Election Night plans

Times Square, Rockefeller Plaza get special treatment

NEW YORK -- Two broadcast networks are taking advantage of their centrally located Manhattan real estate to offer not just a broadcast on Election Night but something of a gathering place for passers-by.

ABC News will broadcast from its Times Square studios, incorporating the "crossroads of the world" setting into its coverage as well as blasting video and electronic ticker results of voting to the tens of thousands, mostly tourists, who will be passing by. And NBC News will set up shop in another NYC landmark, Rockefeller Plaza, using electronic signs of their own for results as well as coloring the skating rink red and blue depending on how states vote.

ABC News is temporarily leaving its Upper West Side news headquarters to set up shop in its Times Square studios, where "Good Morning America" and "Nightline" broadcast. But Election Week, it'll also feature "This Week," "World News" and the election-night coverage. That includes most of the on-scene and behind-the-scenes people. Bill Weir, ABC's "GMA Weekend" co-anchor, will be on the street in Times Square to report for the network, speaking to passersby.

To people in Times Square, ABC News will have its video feed live on its marquee screen, as well as election results. ABC has also bought space from Reuters, Nasdaq and the Hard Rock Cafe to take over their electronic signs across the street to provide real-time election results.

"You'll know exactly where we are any moment, the states that are red and blue," said Marc Burstein, executive producer of specials at ABC News. "You'll really get a sense of what's happening."

Burstein said that the idea was sparked after June 3, when ABC News realized that there was a crowd gathering to see the live results when Barack Obama clinched the nomination.

"There was an enormous crowd that was looking up and watching our coverage without any promotion, without any advance notice," Burstein said. So ABC News hopes that it has the same effect on Nov. 4.

"I imagine it's going to be a gathering spot," said ABC News political director David Chalian. "They call it the 'crossroads of America' ... I'd be surprised if we didn't have a crowd gathered outside."

In 2004, NBC News created "Democracy Plaza," a kind of theme park for political junkies in and around the Rockefeller Center headquarters of the network. It included exhibits from an original copy of the Declaration of Independence, a replica of the Oval Office and other exhibits as well as an NBC News set. Four years later, the network decided not to do the same level of infrastructure as "Democracy Plaza." This time it's called "Election Plaza."

But that doesn't mean that it won't be doing up Rockefeller Plaza in a big way, too. Specials executive producer Phil Alongi said, for instance, that the facade of 30 Rock will have the electoral count on banners for both candidates, moving as they go up. The fabled skating rink will have a map of the United States, colored red and blue as the states vote. And there will be two big screens with live coverage from NBC and MSNBC.

"People as they're walking around will be able to watch the election coverage on NBC and MSNBC," Alongi said.

There may be dueling election coverage at Times Square, however. Fox News Channel will also have a presence in Times Square, offering its coverage on the big Jumbotron screen. Fox News will also have "Strategy Room" Webcast coming from the plaza in front of its Sixth Avenue headquarters, as well as life-sized cutouts of anchors and hosts that passersby can get their pictures taken with.

On the other hand, both the networks are trying to do more than just serve the casual political fan or the tourist. There are the communal aspects of this Election Night experience as well.

"You want to be able to look out on America and have America look in for something this large," Chalian said.
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