Tuesday night, the nation was glued to their TV screens as John McCain became the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton continued to duke it out.
With the election race more dramatic than ever, we thought we’d take a look at how other news organizations work — and Fox News was kind enough to extend us an invitation. So producer Daniel “Grizzly” Montalto, cameraman Brendan “Tintin” Kennedy and myself headed over to the channel’s headquarters in midtown Manhattan to get a first-hand look at how it was gonna go down on primary night.
First stop: the Decision Desk. Upstairs from the main Fox newsroom, news correspondent Bill Hemmer and his giant plasma touch-screen — “Bigger than CNN’s,” he boasted — were both hard at work trying to stay on top of the night’s results.
Here’s how it works – After the Jump.
Every now and then, Fox News anchor Brit Hume, who was hosting the main show from the big studio a few floors down, would drop in on the Decision Desk and check in with Bill about the facts, figures and statistics behind the race. But it wasn’t all Bill and the giant screen, though: a whole team of political analysts and experts remained glued to their computer screens throughout the night, sifting through masses and masses of information being fed to them from the ground in Ohio, Texas, Vermont and Rhode Island. The amount of information looked overwhelming, but that’s what goes into the projections you see the networks making during their primary coverage.
Next, it was time to go down and pay a visit to Hume, who was already well into his live show. The studio was impressive to say the least, with multiple cameras, plasma screens (Fox sure does love them some plasma screens!) and cranes all focused around Hume’s desk and his guests. When we got there, it wasn’t exactly the high-energy studio atmosphere I had expected. In between takes, one of the panelists would pull out a slice of pizza he had hidden under the table and continue eating while Hume cracked jokes — political jokes, of course! On one occasion, we even caught him catching up on his solitaire game on his laptop in between takes! (Is that why news anchors always have laptops by their sides?)
At one point, during a break from the live show, Brit actually got up with no explanation whatsoever and left the room — presumably to go the rest room — much to the surprise of his floor producer. But as if he had telepathy, Brit was back in position and ready to go just seconds before he was back, live, on the air.
The heart of every live TV show — be it the VMAs, the Oscars or primary coverage — is the control room. At Fox News, this is where the show’s producers, directors, production assistants and technicians stay in constant contact with their teams on the ground, in the studio and at the Decision Desk throughout the night. This is where all the pieces come together to make the show that you see on the air. This room — one of the biggest control rooms I’ve ever seen — was jam-packed with people facing a wall of TV screens. There were phones ringing, PAs counting down, directors calling camera shots and executive producers making executive calls — this was the brain of the entire operation.
It was also organized chaos. With any live show, nothing is certain and changes in the script happen frequently and quickly. There was a TV screen for just about everything that was going on that night, from CNN’s coverage to Fox’s news correspondents on the ground to inside the auditoriums where McCain, Obama, Clinton and Huckabee were holding court — the directors and producers had access to everything they could possibly need. It was intense!
Here are some more pics and the piece we cut: