TV After The Election, SNL & Cable News To Fall

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October 31st, 2008

Reading an article by Steven Zeitchik and Paul J. Gough in THR.com article speculating about what the effects of the election will be on Hollywood (both TV and movies), got me thinking as well. Here are some of Steven and Paul's and their interviewees guesses:

Jay Leno and David Letterman are rooting for the Republicans.

"If McCain wins, late-night hosts would have a field day," CNN pundit and Hunter College professor Karen Hunter said.

And if Barack Obama wins? "Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity would have a field day," she said.

"The people who have the most trouble will be people like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert," one network late-night producer said. "It's very hard to rail against the machine when you helped support the machine. They're going to have to find a different dynamic."

An election that lifts either the left or right to power will provide a boost to the network imbued with the ideology of the other side. Given Obama's lead at the polls, an MSNBC comeback -- Olbermann's ratings continue to be strong and Maddow's upstart show is an unlikely second-place challenger to CNN's Larry King -- could stall if the Illinois senator ascends to the Oval Office. And such effects wouldn't be limited to MSNBC: Cable ratings in general could sag.

My guesses:

  • Entirely unmentioned in the THR.com article (and forgotten by me until Robert reminded me), the biggest effect after the election will be the crash back to earth of Saturday Night Live after reaching record heights this season if Obama loses. Lorne Michaels may be the only man in broadcast network TV rooting for McCain/Palin on Tuesday.
  • Cable news ratings overall will drop substantially, to the levels of a year ago, regardless of who wins. Cable news has seen a tremendous surge as people who'd never ordinarily watch have gotten interested in the election (and the financial crises, which will also go away although perhaps more slowly that the political news).
  • An Obama win would likely help Fox a bit, as a McCain win would help MSNBC a bit, but I think the overall benefit is likely to be smaller than many pundits think.
  • I don't think there will be much effect on Letterman and Leno (and whoever follows him). They feature political jokes in their monologues during the election season, but that's such a small part of their overall shows I don't think it matters to viewership. The few spikes they've seen when they had candidate guests really don't effect long term trends at all.
  • Stewart and Colbert ratings may suffer a bit more than Leno and Letterman, but not as much as other folks might think. Sure, they had ample material over the last 8 years targeting the Bush administration and they're unlikely to go after Obama in the same way, but I think their writers are plenty clever enough to write clever shows.
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