Common sense might have told the Republicans not to send Clint Eastwood— probably about five decades past his last improv class — on stage last week at their national convention. With no script, no plan and an empty chair as his only animating principle, the Hollywoodicon made quite a muddle.
It turns out at least one of the television networks warned organizers of the Republican convention that they were bucking tradition — and losing the chance to present a Mitt Romney biographical video — by devoting a precious chunk of prime time to Eastwood.
A source at NBC News, who asked not to be named to smooth future dealings with the Republican camp, said the network informed those planning the GOP convention that it had aired biographical video of every presidential candidate at their nominating parties for almost 30 years.
The Romney organizers said they preferred to take a chance on Eastwood, a hugely popular figure who exudes integrity, to open prime time on the final night of their convention in Tampa, Fla. “We told them we believed they were making a bad call, as the [bio] film is something we have run in every convention going back to 1984,” said the source.
Romney’s advisors declined Saturday to comment, but they and many supporters have rejected the notion that the creator of "Gran Torino" and "Unforgiven" plotzed on stage. They said Eastwood’s rambling, 12-minute stand-up, disparaging an invisible President Obama, connected with the common American.
Republican political consultants have been less kind, saying Team Romney squandered crucial time when the candidate had a chance to present himself to one of the largest audiences he will encounter before election day.
I wondered why NBC, or any television outfit for that matter, would want to give any advice to the political parties about how to run their nominating conventions? Shouldn't they make production choices all on their own?
The NBC official said the network did not intend to meddle in the GOP’s convention planning but wanted to make sure — among other things — that there were no complaints should the Democrats use a biographical video in prime time. NBC told the Republicans it would air the Obama video, just as it would have aired the Romney one.
(The conversations may have been interesting, and a bit cozy, since the executive producer of the Republicans' show in Tampa was Phil Alongi, who used to be a political producer for NBC.)
Indeed, the Democrats broadcast a glowing seven-minute testimonial to Obama shortly before he spoke Thursday night. It featured narration by actor George Clooney and interviews with First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton.
The video helped feed an emotional crescendo leading to Obama’s address and was carried by all the major television outlets, except one.
CBS News declined to show its viewers the Obama video, instead turning to commentators for analysis about what to expect in the president's speech.
Other news stations marked the video as produced by the Democratic National Committee. But a CBS news official, who asked not to be named, said too many viewers still might have mistaken the glossy production as nonpartisan content, when it was not.
“You risk just running someone’s commercial as news if you take the videos,” said the executive, who did not want to be named while criticizing competitors.
That’s a rare position in the news business these days. Most television producers are willing to give over an hour of prime time to the two political parties each night of their conventions, with just a bit of commentary and commercial time mixed in.
Given that free ride — nearly an hour of pure, unadulterated political messaging — expect both parties to air bio videos in prime time at their conventions in 2016. Hollywood icons, empty chair or no, need not apply.
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