If we build it, they will come.
That's the philosophy that's kept the Republican and Democratic national conventions in the television camera's eye every four years since 1948, even as those throwing them became more and more savvy about TV (and less and less interesting to viewers and the networks).
There's grumbling this year among network news people about the cost of covering an essentially non-news event. "We're bringing in 300 people, and we could do this with a couple of cameras," one said this week.
Whether or not they'll be back in 2000, the broadcast networks are there now, at least for an hour a night; and CNN, C-SPAN and the Family Channel -- through GOP TV -- are all there, too.
National ratings for the major networks are down about 20 percent from four years ago, when the first night's coverage was more extensive, with ABC Monday night averaging a 4.3 rating/8 share, NBC a 4.5 rating/8 share and CBS a 3.9 rating/7 share.
(Each national rating point equals 959,000 TV homes. Share represents the percentage of sets in use tuned to a show.)
A week earlier, ABC had averaged an 8.8/16 for a three-hour NFL game between Dallas and Kansas City, while from 10-11 p.m. CBS registered a 7.2/13 for a rerun of "Chicago Hope" and NBC a 12/22 for reruns of "Frasier" and "Caroline in the City."
News junkies, of course, don't rely on just ABC, CBS and NBC. No one knows how many of these junkies exist, because C-SPAN and the publicly funded PBS, which don't have advertisers, don't need to worry about ratings.
At CNN, Monday night's gavel-to-gavel coverage averaged a 1.9 rating from 8-11 p.m., an estimated 1.3 million households. That's down 10 percent from 1992, but it's a 138 percent jump from CNN's usual numbers in that time slot, according to a CNN spokesman.
"Some people ask why we do this," and that ratings bump is certainly one reason, he said.
CNN's peak ratings came between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. Monday, when Colin L. Powell spoke.
Pub Date: 8/14/96