It’s tough to beat Saturday morning at 8:30 when the lead-in is an infomercial.
So I know a little about ratings. My radio show has been going since July 2000. The decade that I co-hosted a public affairs show for then-Los Angeles PBS affiliate KCET broke no records, either: We would break out the champagne if we got so much as a “1 share,” which as audiences go isn’t big and didn’t happen often. C-SPAN 1, for perspective’s sake, is somewhere between .01 and .02. Even PBS thrashes “The Speech Channel.”
The Democratic Convention’s first night no doubt had the loyalists tune in and leave the box on, but the traditional conventions draw their miserable ratings for the funny hats the Texas delegates wear, for the crazies outside the hall and for the panel discussions broadcasting from bars and coffee shops. Rarely do the networks actually cover the speeches, and even when they do, they cut away frequently to other things. It’s the energy of the real conventions that made them at all watchable. That’s all gone now, and so too are the small audiences the quadrennial celebrations drew.
It was, in a word, unwatchable. Now, I love C-SPAN. Brian Lamb rightly received the Medal of Freedom for founding it, and it’s a huge public service that ought to be emulated in every country. We’d all benefit if once a week every other network went dark and C-SPAN aired a “Best of Congress” special for an hour. But that’s not happening. C-SPAN aficionados love it for its relentless thoroughness (and if you stay in D.C. long enough, you can watch yourself age in the C-SPAN archives). It is a unique service, and that is its draw.
Still, in general, television audiences don’t watch speeches. So Republicans should learn from the Democrats’ fiasco and switch it up quickly for their convention next week. The best choice is 20 hours of President Trump interviews with 20 different interlocutors. He’s still the best interview in America.
Even he might think that’s over the top, however, so perhaps 15 minutes of every hour could go to an interview with, say, Vice President Pence, or Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark) or Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-SC). I think it is worth noting that Cotton and Graham are, respectively, the most serious and most humorous of the Republican senators.
The key is to get good interviewers and to edit well. This could turn the unwatchable march through the teleprompters into something at least as interesting as PBS reruns.
Trump knows TV. That’s why he won the 2016 debates — all of them. His inner programmer knows he doesn’t need to share the stage. Sure, put the candidates in key Senate races in prime time for 15 minutes, but just because the Democrats jumped off a ratings cliff doesn’t mean the GOP has to follow them.
Get going, RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel. Talk to your professionals about who can do the sit-downs. Offer the networks their shots. Then get some editors and producers, and produce a watchable show. We can’t have the Texas delegation this year, but the Republicans shouldn’t give up production values just because the Democrats did.