On TV

Political Infomercials, a History

With Obama's 30-minute ad airing tonight, we thought we'd take a look back at other candidates who've used such large chunks of TV time to get out their message. Of course, the last presidential hopeful to use this tactic was Ross Perot — way back in 1992:

The chances of Obama using a pie chart and pointing apparatus... slim to none. Plus, Perot's ads didn't air so close to election day.

However, the 1968 presidential race offers some precedent for the last-minute, long-form prime-time appeal to the American people. On the eve of the election, Richard Nixon bought two hours — from 9-11pm EST — for an estimated $400,000 on NBC. He took questions telephoned in by viewers. His opponent, Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, purchased time slots on three networks, the largest on CBS from 8:30 to 10:30pm EST. The next morning, the NYT dubbed it a "remote debate," noting that the candidates were in Los Angeles studios only twelve miles apart. From the NYT on Nov. 5, 1968:

On his National Broadcasting Company telethon tonight, Mr. Nixon said:

"I have read news dispatches that an Air Force general said that the North Vietnamese are moving thousands of tons of supplies down the Ho Chi Minh Trail [through Laos] and that our bombers are unable to stop them."

Mr. Nixon did not identify the general and offered no additional details.

Moments later, Mr. Humphrey, having been informed of the Republican nominee's comments, broke into the format of his American Broadcasting Company program to denounce what Mr. Nixon had said as "a totally unsubstantiated charge."

The LATimes reported that the candidates' specials — Nixon, Humphrey, and Independent candidate George Wallce — would pre-empt all prime-time programs.

On a side note, the World Series was over by October 10th that year.

(h/t Kee Malesky & Ken Rudin)

— Thomas Pierce

UPDATE: I should have also mentioned Adlai Stevenson's preference for 30-minute advertisements in his 1952 run for the White House. Radio Diaries had a piece two weeks ago comparing the candidates' use of TV in that election. Dwight Eisenhower, Stevenson's opponent, preferred shorter sound bites and jingles. Stevenson delivered an address on the night before the election. But he'd only paid for 30 minutes, and time ran out, cutting him off prematurely.

(h/t Justine Kenin)

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