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Television Is Quick to Call It a Night

October 08, 2003|Elizabeth Jensen | Times Staff Writer

No election-night drama here. The instant the polls closed, the election was over for television, as all the major networks rushed at 8 p.m. straight up to call a win for the recall and anoint Arnold Schwarzenegger the next governor of California.

With a specially commissioned exit poll showing a clear outcome in both categories, network anchors and commentators had been champing at the bit to get the news out, and TV didn't wait for actual results to start trickling in. "Gov. Gray Davis Recalled" read the stark CNN graphic. "Recall passes, Arnold wins," said MSNBC.

"According to our exit polls and interviews with voters, we're ready to say Gov. Gray Davis will be recalled, and Arnold Schwarzenegger has won the race to replace him," said "CBS Evening News" anchor Dan Rather.

KABC-TV Channel 7, airing the last episode of "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter" taped before star John Ritter died, put the information in a written "crawl" at the bottom of the screen a few minutes after 8, at the same time as analysis had begun elsewhere. "Arnold Schwarzenegger has to hit the ground running," Tim Russert was saying to Brian Williams on CNBC.

The recall might be historic, but a few minutes after 8, KCBS-TV Channel 2, KNBC-TV Channel 4 and KABC were all in regular programming. KTTV-TV Channel 11 stayed with the baseball playoff game between the Chicago Cubs and the Florida Marlins. KCAL-TV Channel 9 stayed with election coverage.

The win was news for Los Angeles' two main Spanish-language stations, KMEX-TV Channel 34 and KVEA-TV Channel 52. Comedy Central's Jon Stewart, doing a rare live edition of his satirical news commentary "Daily Show," "called" a winner at 8:11 and then immediately cut to a report on porn actress and failed candidate Mary Carey.

In the online world, Hollywood trade paper Variety sent out an e-mail announcing Schwarzenegger's win at 8:12. At 8:37, abandoned a fairly sober treatment -- changing the headline on its lead story on the recall from "Schwarzenegger ousts Davis" to "Hasta La Vista Davis."

The rush to declare a winner came after a long day with stretches of no new news for the cable networks, which vamped with rehashes of the issues and endless shots of the candidates voting. CNN sent Walt Rodgers to Austria to see how Schwarzenegger's homeland felt about the recall. The people Rodgers spoke to seemed enthused.

On AM talk radio, the medium that helped give rise to the recall effort and served as its war drum throughout the campaign, one host after another spent election day holding forth on what they saw as the inevitability of Davis' ouster, and the installation of Schwarzenegger as the next governor. "The John & Ken Show" on KFI-AM (640) opened to the strains of Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It," Schwarzenegger's song, over which host John Kobylt shouted, "Today is a wonderful, beautiful day for a revolution! A great day for a coup! A great day to overthrow the government!"

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