Callum Borchers - The history of political conventions on TV mirrors the history of the television itself. No surprise there. As TV ownership exploded from less than 1 percent of U.S. households in 1948 to a majority in 1954, convention organizers in both major parties adapted the events to take advantage of the new medium.
... By 1956, both parties further amended their convention programs to better fit the demands of television coverage. Party officials condensed the length of the convention, created uniform campaign themes for each party, adorned convention halls with banners and patriotic decorations, placed television crews in positions with flattering views of the proceedings, dropped daytime sessions, limited welcoming speeches and parliamentary organization procedures, scheduled sessions to reach a maximum audience in prime time, and eliminated seconding speeches for vice presidential candidates. Additionally, the presence of television cameras encouraged parties to conceal intraparty battling and choose geographic host cities amenable to their party.
Decorations and prime-time scheduling are one thing; scripted coronations are another. The key to creating the four-day advertisements for preordained nominees that we see today was a shift by both major parties toward primary selection processes, according to Kathryn Cramer Brownell, a history professor at Purdue University who studies the intersections of politics, media and entertainment. Democrats held primaries and caucuses in every state for the first time in 1972; Republicans followed in 1976.
... In September of 1996, journalists took stock of the recently completed Democratic and Republican presidential conventions. The verdict was nearly unanimous: The conventions had become political set pieces devoid of meaningful content. Halfway through the Republican convention in San Diego, Ted Koppel and the "Nightline" crew left, claiming that "they were bored and had better things to do." ... One reporter expressed the view of many when he called the conventions "scripted infomercials." ...
... Today CNN, Fox News and MSNBC show no signs of reducing convention coverage. These events are their Olympics. That's good news for the Republican and Democratic parties, which have no incentive to change.