By 10 p.m., the networks had finally given up the game of not calling the election for Democrat Barack Obama out of deference to West Coast voters.
"It is looking as if it is getting more and more difficult - if not impossible - for John McCain to find a way to victory, isn't it?" CBS anchorwoman Katie Couric said to analysts Bob Schieffer and Jeff Greenfield at the top of the hour.
"We want to remind folks to go vote," Schieffer quickly added, sounding the broadcaster's civic-duty mantra. "But it's virtually impossible for McCain at this point."
Almost everyone on network and cable TV tried to maintain a story line of the contest still being up in the air into the 9 o'clock hour. But unlike election night in 2000 when the contest went down to the wire and then beyond in the wee hours with the genuine impossibility of calling Florida, last night the primary on-screen drama was in the correspondents and anchors trying not to say what they knew to be true about the certainty of Obama's victory and still retain their credibility.
CNN correspondent John King, the star of the cable channel's Magic Wall, voiced the tension at 9:40 p.m., saying, "If you are out there, please vote, vote, vote. But it's very hard for me to say with any credibility that McCain can find a way to win."
Most CNN viewers who had seen correspondent Dana Bash's report from McCain headquarters a few minutes earlier had already figured that out when Bash reported reaction to the news of Ohio going to Obama.
"This is absolutely crushing for John McCain - the news on Ohio," she said.
Bash then went on to describe how election result coverage had been taken off the big screens in the ballroom where McCain was later expected to appear: "Reality is really setting in here."
As far back as 7 p.m., Bash had described the mood inside the McCain camp as "stoic," giving a very early indication that exit polls were not painting a very happy picture for the Republican.
Overall, there was more TV coverage than on any election night in history, and most of it was welcome.
ABC News was consistently accurate in projecting the winner in states throughout the night, starting with its call of Pennsylvania for Obama at 8 p.m., long before anyone else.
With the first black candidate for a major party in the race, TV One and BET, two cable channels aimed at African-American viewers, offered expanded prime-time coverage.
Most impressive was the use of correspondents to bring viewers live reports from voters gathered in such places as historically black colleges and universities. There was a genuine power in hearing first-hand testimony from black voters young and old who said they thought they would never see this day in their lifetime. TV One and BET filled an important gap in the traditional and network coverage.
As it did in the primary caucuses and elections with the Magic Wall, CNN once again stole the technological thunder - this time with its use of hologram photography to teleport an image of correspondent Jessica Yellin from Obama campaign headquarters in Chicago to its election center in New York City.
Yellin stood in a tent in Chicago surrounded by 35 cameras that so captured and transported her image that it looked as if she was standing in the center of the CNN election headquarters talking to anchorman Wolf Blitzer. (For a full description, go to my daily blog at baltimoresun.com/zontv.)
Yellin's hologram was shown at 7:15 p.m., and there was nothing on any of the other networks or channels that could compare throughout the night. Fox was truly left behind with its ancient "greenscreen" technology.
But in the end last night, there was nothing that could compare in sheer emotional power with old-fashioned, boilerplate TV overhead shots of Chicago's Grant Park, and the tens of thousands of people who had gathered there during the night to hear the man they knew was going to be the nation's next president - whether or not the networks were willing to announce it before 10 p.m.
Anchors struggle to not call it a day for McCain
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