Cover image for Presidential debates : forty years of high-risk TV
Presidential debates : forty years of high-risk TV
Schroeder, Alan, 1954-
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Publication Information:
New York : Columbia University Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
x, 271 pages ; 24 cm
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JF2112.D43 S37 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Drawing on his own experience as an award-winning reporter and TV producer and through illuminating interviews with journalists and producers who have worked on presidential debates, Alan Schroeder sheds light on every presidential debate from 1960 to the present. From the selection of questioners to the camera angles, from issues of makeup to lighting and stage set, Schroeder shows how decisions are made that influence every aspect of what the audience perceives. The book takes readers on a fascinating backstage tour, approaching the debates within the framework of the fundamental steps to which TV producers adhere: preproduction, production, and postproduction. Calling upon behind-the-scenes stories from seven campaign seasons, Schroeder illustrates how the live component of the debates, far from diminishing dramatic potential, increases our anticipation - not least because of viewer curiosity to watch one candidate make a grave error and go down in flames.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

These books will attract strong readership as the nation heads into a season of presidential campaigns and debates that will surely invite comparisons with past political contests. Cornog and Whelan look at election campaigns from George Washington's in 1789 through the Clinton-Dole contest in 1996. Readers will be struck by how little has changed. Early elections were marked by character attacks and partisanship, debates on issues from state versus federal control, taxes, and commercial versus individual interests. The authors examine how campaigns have been affected by the social and political sensibilities of the times and the rising influence of political parties and the news media. What's most fascinating is the accounts of the earliest elections, the political scheming and the tumultuous process that existed as presidential succession was established. Schroeder explores the shorter, but no less fascinating, history of presidential debates--how they have affected campaigns and news coverage of the election process. The first televised debate, in 1960 between Richard Nixon and John Kennedy, set the precedent for such debates, the role-playing and posing that goes into the drama behind the scenes as well as in front of the cameras. Schroeder's book is organized to parallel a television show: preproduction, production, and postproduction. This is a backstage look at the stars and their supporting casts of advisors, and the lesser cast members of moderators and questioners, in this examination of the merger of television and politics. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

Ever since the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debate, televised candidate confrontations have been a staple of presidential campaigns; they've gone from being a novelty, to being an option for candidates, to being expected and unavoidable. Viewed by millions of peopleÄaccording to Schroeder, presidential debates get Super Bowl-sized ratingsÄthe stakes could not be higher for the candidates. In this informative "backstage tour through the fractious world of presidential debates," Schroeder (a professor of journalism at Northeastern) reveals just how tightly these events are staged. Candidates and their staff at least try to control every aspect of the eventÄfrom the seating position of the spouses to the color of the sheet hanging behind the podiums. Even the campaigners' ad-libs are carefully scripted. Reagan's famous "There you go again" was planned out beforehandÄas was vice presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen's "You're no Jack Kennedy." Candidates spend weeks preparing themselves and making every attempt to prevent spontaneity. But happily, Schroeder notes, live TV cannot be totally scripted, and it is the rare moments of candor in increasingly pre-packaged campaigns that make the debates both good TV and educational for voters. Memorable unscripted moments include Bush's glancing at his watch in 1992 and the unfeeling reply Dukakis gave in 1988 to a question about the theoretical rape and murder of his wife. So, flawed as they are, the author suggests, presidential debates do matter. Indeed, they show signs of improving as new formats, like "town meetings," where real voters ask questions, loosening the candidates' grip on the process. In any event, they are not going away, and Schroeder's "tour" is a good one, sparked by lively writing and an eye for telling details. 3-city author tour. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

This strong book surveys 40 years of presidential debates. Schroeder (journalism, Northeastern Univ.) looks at the development of the institution and the changes in strategy over the years. He examines each presidential debate in depth and looks at media expectations, candidate preparation, performance, impact, and participant recollections. The book is well written and well researched. Readers learn about the difficulties of debate negotiations between the camps, of the changing role of media and different kinds of debates, and about the roles of sponsors and the development of the presidential Debate Commission. Schroeder also shows how the media select "winners" of debates and how these debates fit into the rhythm and flow of the campaign. The book's only flaw is its failure to talk about Ronald Reagan's debate preparation in which his side obtained a copy of Jimmy Carter's secret debate briefing book before the only debate of the election. Nevertheless, this book is highly recommended for all collections. J. Orman; Fairfield University