And From Out of Left Field…


How's this for a statement on broadcast-TV political coverage: Comedy Central's plans for covering the presidential election are more definitive at this stage than those of any of the "Big Three."

It's not just Cable News Network, MSNBC, CNBC, Fox News Channel and C-SPAN charting cable's new course as the unquestioned leader in election coverage. The decidedly offbeat coverage ideas of longtime participant Comedy, kids' network Nickelodeon, Lifetime Television and even E! Entertainment Television are also part of the fray.

What could E! possibly contribute to the campaign dialogue? Here's a hint: Can we talk?

Yes, the ubiquitous Joan Rivers and her daughter Melissa will storm both the Republican and Democratic conventions. It isn't too late for delegates to start ducking for cover.

But if the Rivers ladies aren't just for Oscars anymore, what will they do at the conventions? They will be scouring the convention floor in search of any fashion faux pas. Honest.

E! senior vice president of original programming John Rieber insisted the concept isn't just fun and frivolity.

"Yes, Joan and Melissa will be carrying the message, It's not how you lead, it's how you look,'" acknowledged Rieber. "But we really see this as the E! opportunity to put a unique spin on the political process. It just continues the expansion of what our fashion review is."

The serious element to this fashion foolishness comes in when the ladies "discuss fashion over the years and how it has impacted the presidency," Rieber added. "People want to vote for someone whom they think will look good as a leader, and that's what Joan and Melissa will be talking about."

It's a sentiment that surely plays right into the hands of Comedy Central and its "InDecision 2000" coverage plans, which this year includes regular reports from none other than 1996 GOP nominee Bob Dole. Dole has appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and will provide analysis both from the Republican Convention and the network's booth on Election Night. Ben Stein is also serving as a special contributor all campaign long.

Could it be that Comedy Central is actually beginning to take politics (gasp) seriously?

"Oh, we always have," replied Madeleine Smithberg, co-creator and executive producer of The Daily Show. "This is the third presidential election Comedy Central has been around for. And as the pretend newsgathering organization that we are, we continue to feel it our mandate to mirror what the 'legitimate' media is doing."

Womens' network Lifetime opted to get into the election act this political season, when it launched a national effort to ensure female voices are heard in the campaign. Its title: "Our Lifetime Commitment: Every Woman Counts."

In April, the network recruited 75 "diverse women from around the country" for Lifetime's Team2000. That effort included the drafting in April of 75 "diverse women from around the country" known as Lifetime's Team2000. They will serve as on-air and online reporters and encourage women to go to the ballot box in November.

There have been no such ballot-box urgings at Nickelodeon this election season, primarily because its target demo of 5-to-11-year-olds is still years away from legal voting age. But Nick is still seizing the opportunity to teach its viewers how to be responsible future voters.

On this network, kids' presidential choices will be tallied via its "Kids Pick the President" campaign (an initiative Nick has sponsored since 1988).

Cyma Zarghami, Nickelodeon's exec vice president and general manager, said she expects the number of votes to approach-or even surpass-the 2 million mark this year. "Kids aren't really given that many avenues to become part of a real process," Zarghami saod, "and this kind of response to Kids Pick the President shows just how important it is to them."

The larger question, of course, is this: Will kids vote on how their preferred candidate will lead.or how he looks?