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US election 2020: Magic walls, battle boards and a swansong but CNN takes victory in compelling ratings battle

From his armchair, Adrian Rutherford takes a look at the television coverage and that 'Magic Wall'

As America decided, so too did TV viewers, and as channels battled for the armchair vote - one man was King.

Schedules were cleared for through-the-night results shows capturing all the intrigue, excitement and drama of the election.

BBC, ITV, Sky News and RTE all broadcast special programmes as the results rolled in.

But it was CNN which seemed to score a decisive win.

Punchy and to the point, it was absorbing viewing.

Anchor John King, with the help of his trusty Magic Wall, seamlessly guided us through all the twists and turns, the possibilities and the permutations.

King, CNN’S fast-talking chief national correspondent, swept viewers on a dizzying tour through each state, looking at all the scenarios that were unfolding, breathlessly outlining the facts and figures.

In all, he was on air for a frantic six hours.

Close

Foreign exchange traders monitor screens as results are broadcast from the United States election, on November 4, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

Foreign exchange traders monitor screens as results are broadcast from the United States election, on November 4, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

Getty Images

Foreign exchange traders monitor screens as results are broadcast from the United States election, on November 4, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

A one-man encyclopaedia, he talked excitedly about the “buffet” of possible pathways to the White House for the rival candidates.

Throughout the night, he pulled up the various states, digging deep into the counties, crunching the numbers.

“This is why elections are fun,” he said as he prodded again at his virtual map, flipping states from red to blue.

Elections? Fun? Maybe a bit OTT. But hey, if King said it, it must be true.

It was far removed from the more formal presentation style of UK networks, and utterly compelling.

Former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell tweeted his approval: “Stunning mastery of detail from @JohnKingCNN on @CNN - can’t we put him in charge of test, track and trace?”

BBC NI’s William Crawley tweeted to say he was watching CNN coverage, declaring: “John King’s magical vote wall is a thing of wonder.”

The colourful studio, dramatic music and key race alerts added to the excitement.

American elections draw global interest, and TV channels spent big on their coverage, with virtual walls, correspondents in swing states and expert analysis.

First to get under way was Sky News, with its America Decides programme on air at 10pm.

Dermot Murnaghan led the coverage from a studio overlooking the White House, joined by Sky’s US correspondent Cordelia Lynch and Omarosa Manigault Newman, a former aide to Donald Trump.

In the studio back home, the path to the White House was laid out - virtually - showing Trump and Biden’s progress towards the all-important tally of 270.

ITV’s special, billed simply Trump vs Biden: The Results, was fronted by Tom Bradby, bringing his usual easy-going, informal style to coverage.

He was joined by Washington Correspondent Robert Moore and US political analyst Dr Keneshia Grant in the studio, with the US Capitol in the background.

Northern Ireland-born John Irvine, reporting from Phoenix in Arizona, was part of a team of correspondents bringing news from around the key states.

The ubiquitous virtual wall was dubbed a battle-board - 50 states colour coded and divided between safe, leaning and swing.

The BBC was last to get under way, at 11.30pm.

Andrew Neil anchored the coverage from the studio in London, with Katy Kay in Washington, through the night. It was Neil’s swansong with the BBC and, while bringing his authoritative style to coverage, it was lacking the flair of ITV and punch of CNN.

Over on RTE, anchor Caitriona Perry - its former Washington correspondent - was studio based, with Brian O’Donavon in Washington, for the first half of their all-nighter.

Whatever the channel, the narrative was the same - confusion and uncertainty.

As the hours passed, as it became increasingly clear we were in for the long haul, predictions were cast and recast. Small shifts in the data suddenly became a big deal.

Every possible path to the White House was analysed.

By 5.30am, and still no end in sight, a more weary Bradby wondered aloud on ITV about where America stood. No-one was quite sure.

All the same, it made for compelling viewing.

Belfast Telegraph


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