Nation & World

On TV, Democrats borrowed from the Olympics

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — If it were a TV reality show, the Democratic National Convention would be the picture of perfection.

Network television only allocates an hour nightly for the nation's political parties to make their case, on the theory that the conventions have become a form of infomercial, tailored in the modern age only for the timing and pace of TV.

Thursday night, Democrats gave the networks every reason to believe they were right.

As the magic hour opened, a documentary looking at Barack Obama's life rolled in Denver. It was a PBS Ken Burns-style moment that included black-and-white photos of his childhood, spliced with film from the glory days of the American century, when men rocketed into space in wee capsules and somehow returned.

It capped a week that saw ratings generally rise from the Democrats' 2004 gathering in Boston and generated some dramatic television in the convention window: Hillary Clinton's tour of triumph amid defeat and the rousing oratory from vice-presidential nominee Joe Biden.

For the cable networks, always ravenous for content, the coverage was largely wall-to-wall. Against the major broadcast networks, it was a case of far too much against far too little.

At times, they lapsed into the trap of allowing partisans to bloviate on talking points, no matter what the question from the interviewers.

But political parties have learned the art of the glittering hour, and Obama's finale seemed to borrow much from the Olympic experience of the past two weeks.

Set in a massive stadium filled with 84,000 onlookers, against a monstrous tan backdrop and an impossibly well-lit audience, the Obama Show had high production values and oozed flag-waving, patriotic appeal.

Obama talked about a world in which his family struggled and how his grandmother did without, so he'd have a better life.

She couldn't travel nowadays, he said. But he did make the bridge not only between generations, but between the poetry of politics and the power of television.

"I know she's watching tonight," he said, "and tonight's her night."

(Mark Washburn is a reporter for the Charlotte Observer.)

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