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Late-Night Infomercial Meets Telethon: What 1st DNC Night Was Like For Viewers


With no crowd and very few lives segments, this year's Democratic National Convention is pretty much a pure TV event. Last night was the first night, and NPR's senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro and our TV critic Eric Deggans have some thoughts on the production.


UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing) Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight...

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Well, that was a bunch of kids around the country, all 50 states, singing the national anthem. That really was at least a little bit of how it came across, Eric, because this thing was really like, I don't know, a cross between late-night infomercial and, like, "We Are The World" or something. I don't know.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: (Laughter) Yeah. Although, I will say, I think it was a little more successful than either of those things (laughter).

MONTANARO: Hey, "We Are The World" made a lot of money.

DEGGANS: Well, you know, what was interesting is that what you saw would change depending on where you saw it. So I spent a lot of time sort of leapfrogging amongst the cable news channels to see how they were presenting it. And it seemed like some media outlets were faced with a tough decision. The show was so streamlined and just presented a succession of material, so do you just show the stream for the most part and not comment on it and sort of turn your channel into an infomercial for the DNC, or do you break in a lot and comment on what's happening, which is what Fox News did. And in that case, they seemed almost like they were pushing back against everything that the DNC was saying. And it'll be interesting to see how media outlets negotiate that going forward.

MONTANARO: Yeah, totally. We got three more nights of this, and then next week, too. But what were some of your highlights - I mean, the things that really sort of from a TV standpoint, like, struck you?

DEGGANS: Well, it wasn't the politicians, let's just say that (laughter).

MONTANARO: It never is.

DEGGANS: You know, most of them, I think, didn't get the memo that this is video and you don't need to sort of at us like you've had ten cans or Red Bull or whatever. You don't have to emote, you know? But what I did like was the moment of silence when they had George Floyd's relatives speak, and then they had a moment of silence for people who'd been unjustly killed or harmed by police.

A moment that both of us talked about was Kristin Urquiza, a woman whose father was a Trump supporter, and he followed Trump's attitude about the virus and the way he talked about it and then wound up dying from it. She had a great way of summing that up during her speech. Let's listen to that clip.


KRISTIN URQUIZA: My dad was a healthy 65-year-old. His only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump. And for that, he paid with his life.

MONTANARO: And that was just so powerful and such a, you know, kind of rocket shot, the kind of things that you normally hear in political conventions but are always accompanied by a crowd.

DEGGANS: I agree. And I also think one of the things the Democrats were trying to do was show that they had a wide coalition of people behind them.

MONTANARO: You know, I think it was really an interesting choice to have a bunch of Republicans talk and then have Bernie Sanders speak. But a lot of progressives were annoyed at seeing Republicans there. Of course, the Democratic message that they're trying to put forward is say, hey, you know, you may not like everything we stand for. But if you really can't stand President Trump, there's a home for you here.

DEGGANS: But we got to talk about the marquee moment, of course, when Michelle Obama talked. And she was more directly critical of Donald Trump than I have ever heard her say.


MICHELLE OBAMA: Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment.

MONTANARO: She's going to be tough to top, you know, the rest of this week. I think that speech will stick with a lot of people. I also felt like even though she hit all the notes and I think she probably did it as well as she could have, I was imagining that speech with - again, with those 20,000 people. But she certainly blew away the rest of the night. And if voters took one thing from that, it was her calls to action - you know, grab your backpacks, grab your dinner, maybe even breakfast, you've got to vote - and made it really sober, really serious. And then for those who were watching, some people saw this, others didn't - depended on your platform - Billy Porter.


BILLY PORTER: (Singing) I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound? Everybody look what's going down

DEGGANS: And that was amazing, too, just seeing the hippest guy on television serenading things out. So I can't wait to see, you know, the next few nights if this is the first night.

MONTANARO: Yeah, for sure. I assume you're going to be watching.

DEGGANS: Oh, yes.

MONTANARO: Yeah. It's my job, so I'm going to have to.

DEGGANS: (Laughter) That's right - got to keep those checks coming in.

FADEL: That was our TV critic Eric Deggans and NPR's senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
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