Lisa de Moraes
Lisa de Moraes
The TV Column

TV Column: Networks’ election-night follies

Donna Svennevik/AP - Diane Sawyer, hosting election night coverage with George Stephanopoulous, appeared tipsy to some viewers.

NBC News appears to have won election night, ratings-wise. But ABC News was tops on Twitter.

More than 12.1 million viewers watched NBC in prime time, though broadcast numbers would be adjusted Thursday, Nielsen said late Wednesday. That puts NBC ahead of Fox News Channel, which averaged 11.5 million — its biggest prime-time audience ever.

More from Lisa de Moraes

Pulitzer Prize winner, Peabody recipient, Medal of Freedom honoree -- Lisa de Moraes is none of these, but she is an authority on the bad direction, over-acting, and muddled plot lines being played out in the TV industry's executive suites.

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ABC finished third, snaring 10.5 million.

That makes the 9.3 million logged by CNN look pretty good — beating the 7.9 million for CBS, as well as the just less than 5 million garnered by the Fox broadcast network.

In a major ratings development, CNN discovered that it eked out a bigger audience than did Fox News Channel, from 7 p.m. Tuesday, when the polls officially closed on the East Coast, until 2 a.m. Wednesday, when President Obama finished delivering his speech. During that time, CNN logged an estimated 8.8 million viewers, compared with FNC’s 8.7 million and 4.6 million for MSNBC.

But FNC won the 7 p.m.-to-midnight race. Which suggests that a bunch of FNC viewers did not stick around to watch Obama’s victory speech.

But it’s not the TV networks’ numbers people are going to be talking about for the rest of the week. Instead, it’s the crazy coverage of election night across the networks, in comparison to which, Comedy Central’s election-night anchoring by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert looked like Chet Huntley and David Brinkley.

FNC, for instance, was the place to go if you wanted to watch political contributor Karl Rove try to hijack a network and get it to un-declare Ohio for Obama about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday.

When the FNC “decision desk” stood its ground, senior producers thought of having two members of the number-crunching team go on camera with Megyn Kelly and Bret Baier to discuss. Then someone had a better idea and told Kelly to walk back to the room where the number crunchers were holed up, with camera in tow, and do the interview. Because, New York magazine reported that an FNC “insider” told them, “this is Fox News . . . so anytime there’s a chance to show off Megyn Kelly’s legs they’ll go for it.”

So Kelly did.

And the number crunchers stood by their call.

And they were right.

In marked contrast, when ABC News analyst Matt Dowd brought that network’s election-night coverage to its grinding halt, by stating — twice — that this “may be the last election that we see two white men run against each other for president,” ABC election coverage co-anchor George Stephanopoulos opted — after a bit of nervous laughter and cross talk was heard — not to address the jaw-dropping remark:

“Matt, I’m going to save you for a sec and go to Jake Tapper in Chicago.”

Tapper, to his credit, took a moment from inside Obama headquarters in Chicago to say: “I just want to make sure that everybody is clear on the fact that Barack Obama is not white. Has that been established? . . . I have this breaking-news flash: Barack Obama is African American. If somebody could tell Matt, that’d be great.”

How lucky for Dowd, his gaffe got lost in the excitement over Diane Sawyer’s election-night co-anchoring for ABC, which was trending on Twitter that night.

Actually, to be accurate, what was trending was speculation as to whether Sawyer was hammered. Someone even created a @DrnkDianeSawyer Twitter account.

“Four more beers! Four more beers! The debate over whether Diane Sawyer was drunk last night is high-larious,” tweeted one viewer.

“And Diane Sawyer declares tonight’s winner is . . . chardonnay!” chimed in another.

Of course, some of the tweets were coming from Sawyer’s competitors:

“ABC Diane Sawyer drunk during election coverage?” tweeted Fox News.

“Diane Sawyer — Drunk, Tired or Flustered?” faux-questioned TMZ. (TMZ star Harvey Levin also tweeted: “When I watched Diane Sawyer last night something seemed off . . . couldn’t put my finger on it. But watching this AM, toasted!”)

“ ‘Drunk’ Diane Sawyer election coverage becomes Twitter hit,” tweeted CTV News.

But not just competitors were left scratching their chins over Sawyer’s pixilated performance on election night. She appeared to slur some words, and called Josh Elliott by the name Josh Edwards. When numbers from Minnesota came in, Sawyer said: “We’re ready to project Minnesota. . . . Tonight we know, President Barack Orama — Obama — has won Minnesota.”

About 10:45 p.m. Tuesday, Sawyer asked Tapper: “At one point, President Obama’s campaign put an exclamation point after ‘Forward,’ ” referring to Obama’s campaign slogan. “It was just ‘Forward,’ and then it had an exclamation point. When did they decide that was the right message for them?”

Tapper and David Muir, at Romney headquarters in Boston, seemed to smirk and try not to smile in split-screen.

“Well, they went back and forth about a lot of different messages. And they ultimately decided ‘Forward,’ ” Tapper explained. “And then there was some criticism that ‘Forward’ with just a period was not really conveying the kind of ‘Forward’ that they wanted. So the exclamation point was added.”

Then, trying carefully to segue back to the election-night results, he added: “I should say that we’re having somewhat of an exclamation point here this evening. The crowd is really jubilant.”

But for network internecine madness, nothing beats NBC on election night. Not long after midnight, anchor Brian Williams began to note the election-night tweeting of NBC “The Apprentice/Celebrity Apprentice” star Donald Trump that, Williams said, was attracting attention.

“Donald Trump, who has driven well past the last exit to relevance and something closer to irresponsible here, is tweeting tonight,” Williams began resignedly. He read some of Trump’s tweets, including, “This election is a total sham and a travesty. We are not a democracy!” and “disgusting injustice. The world is laughing at us!”

“So there you have it — THAT happened,” Williams concluded, with a sigh.

On Wednesday, Trump responded via Twitter:

“Brian — Thanks dummy — I picked up 70,000 twitter followers yesterday alone. Cable News just passed you in the ratings.”

To read previous columns by Lisa de Moraes, go to washingtonpost.com/
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