Tuned In

The Election on TV: What Next?

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March 4 is over, and we have a winner: the TV networks. America, you lucky country, you are now looking at a full month and a half before Pennsylvania, with only a couple small contests. Meaning that, in the absence of any actual votes, the coverage of the campaign will become the campaign itself, in that that’s what will create any shifts in momentum. (That and superdelegate endorsements, of course, but those will be media events in themselves.)

It’s a cliche to say it already, but America’s newest hit reality show just got picked up for another season. (To extend the metaphor, the phase we’re entering sort of reminds me of Survivor when it gets down to the final three–with John McCain as the immunity-challenge winner who gets to think about which opponent he wants to help bring before the jury with him.)

There’s already talk of at least one more big debate before the Pennsylvania primary. At least one campaign wants it, and the networks are dying for it. (Not to mention SNL.) The most recent CNN and MSNBC Democratic debates shattered cable records, and reports are the next go-around would go on one of the major networks.

Which is all good, but I hope if there is another debate(s) that the host and the campaigns agree to do something to switch up the format from the now-routine setup of two candidates sitting at a table while a moderator prods them to argue about whatever mini-controversy they’ve been going at in the latest news cycle.

I’d like to see the candidates get more time–maybe even a whole debate–to question each other directly. I know that could be a recipe for stunt questions and cross-the-stage-I-challenge-you-to-make-this-pledge theatrics, but hopefully voters would see cheesy tactics for what they were. And if the candidates really want to have a substantive, issues-based debate, let them ask the questions, and they’ll have only themselves to blame if it devolves into silly season.

What would you like to see in the next debate, if there is one? Or have you already tuned out?

[Update: Best suggestion yet, from Steven Berlin Johnson via Twitter: "If we're going to have these scare ads, we should just schedule a random debate at 3 AM and wake up all the candidates and see how they do."]