As I watched Laura Bush, the first lady of our nation, introduce President Bush's remarks to the Republican Convention via satellite on Tuesday night, all I could think was, "Man, the Republicans are really into blurry flags this year." You see, behind Mrs. Bush was a
huge massive gargantuan screen, on which was an image of a distractingly flapping U.S. flag. The problem was it was so big that the only things you could see in the TV frame on CNN HD were a few stripes and a few stars — all blown up so big that they looked like mush.
And that was just the beginning.
Politics aside (really!), after watching most of both the Democratic and Republican conventions, I have to say that the clear winners in the contest to put on the best TV production are the Dems. That mammoth screen was just one misstep in the GOP's presentation, albeit the largest — literally (as Joe Biden would say). Follow the Continue link to read the others… and why they matter.
Lesson 1: The TV Audience Always Wins
You might say that the quality of the TV presentation is largely immaterial for a political convention, that the event is put on for the delegates and the party members who are there, that it's a rallying event for the party, not a campaign ad. You might say that — if you were colossally naïve. As anyone who's ever been to a live taping of their favorite talk show knows, the TV audience is king.
Go to a taping of, say, The Daily Show and you'll be surprised by how small the studio is, how often Jon Stewart has his makeup fixed, how they'll sometimes do the same joke twice because the sound guy didn't quite get the applause right the first time ("…so would y'all mind faking it for Take 2?"). It's all about making the experience perfect for the TV audience. And why not? Compared to the millions of people watching at home, the few dozen seeing the show live are negligible. It's the most basic numbers game you can get.
So, Republicans, before you greenlight another giant screen, think for two seconds how that's going to look on TV. Better yet, get someone really media savvy and think about how easy it would be for mischievous YouTubers to remove the backgrounds from speechgivers and superimpose the First Lady onto some footage from Triumph of the Will. Sure, the Democrats had Barack Obama next to some Jumbotron-level screens, too, but those were off to the side (and, surprisingly, more modestly sized), so they didn't distract from his speech on TV. And yeah, some of the earlier speeches from the Pepsi Center indeed had Bill Clinton and others speaking in front of a big blue screen, but it generally didn't distract, and there was nothing nearly as visually disturbing as Rudy Giuliani looking like he was giving a speech in front of wall of mud (a close-up of the harbor in a picture of the New York City skyline).
Lesson 2: Hire a Director
I have no scientific count on this, but it seemed to me there wasn't the same unity with the signage in the GOP crowd. People holding up signs at the Dems' convention did so at the same time and all showing the same side. I'm just guessing, but I think someone probably told them to do that. While the Republican side definitely had more (allegedly) homemade signs, people in the crowd were holding up "Country First" and "McCain/Palin" and "Energy Independence" (yeah! policy!) pretty randomly. Having a morass of different signs isn't exactly bad, I suppose, but nothing hits home a message like a thousand people holding up the exact same sign that says "Change."
And didn't it look like those booths behind and to the left of the stage at the GOP Con were empty seats? Who's idea was that? You've got the woman who just might be a heartbeat away from the presidency on stage, and you're making her look like she can't outsell Earth, Wind & Fire.
There were plenty of crowd gaffes at the Republican convention, too — I saw way more cues to people yawning, ridiculous outfits (that elephant hat was just wrong), not to mention that protester getting hauled out during Palin's speech. While I can hardly hold the convention planners responsible for the crowd, if they had consulted a TV director beforehand, CNN might not have had all those opportunities to make the GOP look bad.
Final Lesson: The High-Tech Edge
A lot has been made of the Democrats' technological savvy in this campaign, mainly how they've dominated the online arena this time around. That's why it's surprising to see the Republicans are still struggling in the last tech contest, especially since we cracked the code on creating good TV presentations ages ago. The Internet is great at doing things like getting lots of people to donate money who otherwise wouldn't, but for presenting yourself to the world its audience is still too splintered to compare with the potential of a television audience. In politics, arguably nothing matters more than how you look on TV, and if the conventions are any indication the screen has a distinct blue streak.