David Brinkley’s Howard Beale-esque meltdown was far from the only bizarre moment in the TV networks’ coverage of this year’s elections. (For those who missed it, the cranky, soon-to-retire ABC newsman, apparently unaware he was still on the air, dubbed Bill Clinton a ”bore” without ”a creative bone in his body.” Then where’d Chelsea come from?) Here are our votes for the real winners and losers in the 1996 elections:
Best coverage: Comedy Central’s cheeky Politically Incorrect, which featured a giant scoreboard (Clinton was ”Home,” Dole was ”Visitor”) and kids in red and blue T-shirts acting out a 3-D electoral map. If only Bill Maher would run for President.
Least gracious winner: Bill Clinton droned on for more than 30 minutes with his acceptance speech. Just say thanks and get back to work, okay, Bubba?
Most ridiculous set: NBC, whose futuristic set Tom Brokaw dubbed the ”Starship Enterprise,” and ABC, which forced poor Peter Jennings to crane his neck to talk to Sam Donaldson perched on a balcony, tie for second. But CBS wins for its absurd ”cyberset,” which made Harry Smith look even more lost in space than usual.
Biggest screwup (national): All the networks incorrectly declared Democrat Dick Swett winner of the New Hampshire senate race. They really thought voters would elect a guy named Dick Swett?
Biggest screwup (local): WCBS (New York) anchors introduced disgraced Clinton adviser Dick Morris as Dick Zimmer, Republican loser of the New Jersey senate race. At least they didn’t call him Dick Swett.
Best reason to vote for Perot: The tiny tycoon’s election-eve infomercial preempted Ted Danson’s insufferable Ink — and delivered more laughs than CBS’ ”Big Comedy Monday” lineup.
Best counterprogramming: UPN made up for ABC’s bumping Roseanne and Home Improvement and NBC’s bumping Frasier with all-black parodies: Broseanne, Homey Improvement, and Frazier (with Smokin’ Joe Frazier).
Worst luck: David Alan Grier’s stint guest-hosting for Greg Kinnear on Later got pushed even later by NBC’s election coverage until 3 a.m.
Least believable spin: Republican party chairman Haley Barbour told ABC that the election was actually a big victory for the GOP. Then how come Bob Dole’s still living in his Watergate apartment instead of the White House?
Least apt description: David Brinkley praised South Carolina’s ex-segregationist nonagenarian senator Strom Thurmond as a ”grand old gent.” Well, one out of three ain’t bad.
Most mangled speech: NBC’s l-slurring Tom Brokaw repeatedly stumbled while trying to pronounce such tongue-twisters as election and Bill Clinton.
Most prophetic flub: Peter Jennings mistakenly announced that Al Gore was stepping up to the podium to make his ”concession speech.” That won’t come until the year 2000, Peter.
Weirdest metaphor: CBS’ Dan Rather described noncandidate Colin Powell thusly: ”If frogs had longer hind legs they wouldn’t have to squat to jump.” ”What’s the frequency, Kenneth?” made more sense.
Biggest reason Dole didn’t get the youth vote: Annoying MTV veejay Kennedy joined the Republican nominee on the stump for his last-ditch, 96-hour campaign-athon. He should’ve held out for Jenny McCarthy.