The electricity of election night programming comes from just how little actually happens for hours leading up to decisive moments. On Tuesday night, a winner (presumably) will be declared in the Trump-Clinton contest, but only after hours’ worth of filler.
That makes choosing what to watch throughout the (long) evening a fairly fraught proposition. These have to be people with whom you’re willing to spend an amount of time that’s as substantial as it is substance-free.
Cable news has, this election cycle, had a vexed relationship with filling the air. For every unexpectedly juicy roundtable discussion, there’s been one featuring vacuous, fact-light commentary rife with false equivalencies, or debates incendiary for their own sake. I’ll be keeping an eye on NBC (where deeply sourced reporters Andrea Mitchell and Katy Tur will be positioned at Clinton and Trump headquarters, respectively) at the moments polls close—and flipping over to Fox in the event of a Clinton victory, to see how the coverage differs from 2012, when Megyn Kelly rose to megafame simply by refusing to indulge Karl Rove’s denial of an Obama win.
TIME will be broadcasting a live show on Time.com, Facebook and YouTube, hosted by Washington correspondent Alex Altman, with guests including TIME editor-in-chief Nancy Gibbs, Time Inc. chief content officer Alan Murray and myself, among others. The show is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m.
Here's what else is out there:
- CNN is touting 24 hours of coverage, beginning at midnight on Election Day and including programs hosted by Wolf Blitzer, Jake Tapper, Dana Bash and Anderson Cooper live from Washington’s “CNN Election Center” (which also features the now-venerable “CNN Magic Wall,” the video screen manipulated by John King).
- MSNBC will also be broadcasting all day, with coverage led by Rachel Maddow, Brian Williams and Chris Matthews kicking off at 6 p.m.
- And Fox News, its taste for spectacle intact even after the departure of impresario Roger Ailes, will broadcast from a glittering new studio with anchors Kelly and Bret Baier.
But in the hours between polls closing, I plan to flip around to broadcasts a bit more explicit about their desire to entertain.
- The View will be hosting a two-and-a-half hour special at 9 p.m. on Lifetime; while the show is about a decade off its Rosie-vs.-Elisabeth peak, new additions (including Jedediah Bila and Sunny Hostin) have kept it fresh-ish. I’m curious to see if the venerable talk show, whose panelists own their biases and gaps in knowledge, can deal more effectively with the last night of candidate Trump than a cable news show that’s more tightly bound to cover him as something close to a normal candidate. The fact that this is where Alicia Machado is spending her election night says something about the show’s legitimacy—or its anti-Trump slant. Either way, the conversation is likely to be fresher there than on cable.
- For fans of straight-up political comedy of the intentional sort, Stephen Colbert is to be reacting to returns live on Showtime starting at 11 p.m. On his CBS Late Show, Colbert has been at his best in live broadcasts airing after the conventions, so this could be a chance for him to close out the election strong. I’m likelier to check out Colbert once I get the actual calls from a news network, than I am to tune into Trevor Noah’s live special on Comedy Central (also at 11 p.m.). And people who somehow haven’t grown exhausted of social media can watch a live broadcast of Comedy Central’s @midnight, which will feature a live panel reacting to whatever are the night’s best tweets.
Cord-cutters can do more than look at Tweets, mercifully: BuzzFeed will be live-streaming coverage through a partnership with Twitter, and Facebook Live is teaming with ABC News. ABC is also planning to feature the prognosticator Nate Silver (whose high valuation of Trump’s odds, relative to other forecasters, has made him a semi-controversial figure in news junkie circles).
But this is what we’ll all be watching on election night. Those stuck at home in the hours leading up to the election can do more than idly watch coverage of exit polls (which, as recently as 2004, were very wrong anyhow!). Up until the past week or so, I’d have recommended Veep as a pre-election day watch—its most recent season, tracking a closely contested recount, was the funniest possible spin on electoral chaos, and while it wasn’t “about” Clinton, it tracked closely with the reflexive lack of respect she and other female politicians face. Those seeking escapism, of a sort, can as always tune into House of Cards, a gleefully silly show whose admirers and detractors both have convinced themselves it’s a show about the Clintons, when in actuality it’s about nothing.
But recent developments pertaining to the intelligence community’s interactions with Clinton have me thinking it’s worth catching up on Homeland, whose next season is to feature the great Elizabeth Marvel playing a female president-elect. The show’s had its ups and downs, but at its best, the show is a giddy wallow in a paranoia that feels like the mood of the moment—and one that won’t go away no matter who wins on Tuesday night.