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Election Night TV guide: Which network you should watch, and why

Stephen Colbert will be covering the 2012 Election

Stephen Colbert will be covering the 2012 Election on Tuesday night. (Credit: Getty Images)

It's here! But you already knew that! Election Day 2012, and, man, there are a lot of places to watch coverage, arguably too many.

But let's not approach it in that spirit, but this one: Election Day is one of the great viewing experiences of American television, a true banquet of babble, insights, information, and most of all graphics. Remember CNN's holograms? Who can forget. But the challenge is a simple one: where the heck to turn?

I've put together a somewhat comprehensive list of options for tonight, with emphasis on the word "somewhat." I fear I've overlooked a worthy viewing choice here, and to that oversight, my apologies. And my thanks to the always excellent TVnewser.com, which has by far the best overview of TV coverage. I've cribbed from them in a few spots here ... and quoted directly from news releases, too. So if some of this sounds buoyant and terribly positive, that's the reason


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Finally, I'll give my personal recommendation of why you should watch a particular network. And away we go:

Comedy Central: Starting tonight at 11, with a livestream from the website, "Election Night 2012: This Ends Now" will feature news and results analysis from Jon Stewart and "The Best ---- News Team Ever, including Samantha Bee, Wyatt Cenac, Jason Jones, Al Madrigal, Aasif Mandvi, John Oliver and Jessica Williams, with reporting directly from the show's on-set Obama and Romney headquarters and election center. "The Colbert Report's" special political coverage for The Nation, “Election 2012: A Nation Votes, Ohio Decides; The Re-Presidenting of America: Who Will Replace Obama? ‘2012!” will include host Stephen Colbert's patriotic fervor and insightful conjecture of the results with a guest appearance by Andrew Sullivan.

Why watch: Many reasons, notably the excellence of Stewart and Colbert, and the fact that the Most Expensive Campaign in History is absolutely worth all the derision this team can heap upon it.

MTV and "The Power of 12:" Sway Calloway will report from MTV studios in Manhattan, Andrew Jenks will cover the election from Chicago, and James Montgomery will be on-the-ground in Boston.

Why watch: Well for one, to figure out what "The Power of 12" means. Plus, how can you not watch a network that has the correspondent with the coolest name on all of TV — Sway Calloway. Meanwhile, expect an emphasis on the youth turnout here, which could very well turn this election.

BET: “Vote Like Your Life Depends On It.” On Tuesday, Nov. 6 Election coverage begins with 106 & Park at 6 p.m., followed by a special edition of Don’t Sleep! Hosted by T.J. Holmes at 10 p.m. and the premiere of BET News’ “BATTLEGROUND 2012: Vote Night,” hosted by Ed Gordon at 10:30 p.m. which will air simultaneously on BET and Centric.

Why watch: Well, I love the coverage name, "Vote Like your Life Depends on It." Not sure what it means, but it sure sounds great. Ed's good too, while newcomer T.J. brings that CNN background to the forefront. This will of course emphasize the black voter.

News 12: The gang's all here — Carol Silva, Danielle Campbell, Stacey Bell, Lea Tyrrell, Drew Scott and on and on.

Why watch: Obviously, this is the place to follow local races, and follow them intensely. The major networks are expected to almost completely ignore the state (and Long Island) and already have because most of them think the center of the world is now Ohio.

CNN en Espanol: This special coverage will be moderated by the network’s senior political anchor Juan Carlos López together with anchors Patricia Janiot, Fernando del Rincón, Carmen Aristegui, Xavier Serbiá, Guillermo Arduino and Alejandra Oraa and political contributors Juan Hernández, María Cardona, Roberto Izurieta and Charles Garcia. They will be reporting from the CNN World Headquarters Studio 7 in Atlanta.

Why watch: Obviously, if you're Latino or speak Spanish, but I'm fascinated in this choice. There is very, very little discussion of the Latino voting bloc on the major networks, which is a massive oversight that should be corrected here.

TV One/ NBC News: TV One has teamed with NBC, for its One Vote Matters 2012 Presidential Election coverage. Contributors will join NBC News’ Craig Melvin, who will anchor the presidential election night coverage from NBC’s Washington, D.C., studios, and TV One’s Washington Watch host Roland Martin, who will round out coverage with contributing segments and analysis. The full night of coverage will stream live on tvone.tv and theGrio.com.

Why watch: The backing of NBC gives this coverage potentially heft. It's a big night for TV One, still trying to get traction.

ABC News special “Your Voice, Your Vote 2012” Election coverage will originate live from ABC News Election Headquarters in Times Square, where ABC News will once again transform the Crossroads of the World into an outdoor global viewing event, with real time election results appearing on several of Times Square’s iconic screens. Senior White House Correspondent Jake Tapper at Obama election headquarters in Chicago “ABC World News” weekend anchor David Muir at Romney election headquarters in Boston. Katie Couric will be monitoring social media reaction throughout the evening Barbara Walters, who has interviewed every president since Richard Nixon, will provide historical context. Diane Sawyer & George Stephanopoulos to Anchor “Your Voice, Your Vote 2012” from the Crossroads of the World in Times Square.

Why watch: ABC has a spectacular new political desk that may remind you of a very nice aquarium, and there are some very big fish floating around too.

MSNBC: Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews anchor beginning at 6 p.m. Tuesday, along with Rev. Al Sharpton, Lawrence O’Donnell, Ed Schultz, and Steve Schmidt from New York City. Chuck Todd focuses on the battleground states and Tamron Hall provides exit poll results. Melissa Harris-Perry will contribute from the Obama campaign headquarters in Chicago and Chris Jansing will report from Romney headquarters in Boston.

Why watch: Obviously as an antidote for Fox News. Here's your left-leaning fix for the night.

C-SPAN: Coverage begins at 8 p.m. Their coverage will include: Live victory and concession speeches from the presidential candidates. President Obama will be in Chicago, and Mitt Romney will be in Boston. Live victory and concession speeches from some of the most competitive U.S. Senate races across the country, along with reaction. We’ll take calls as well as gather viewer reaction from Twitter (#cspan2012) and Facebook.com/cspan. Results as they are released in the presidential election and key House, Senate and Governors races. Also live simulcast of Politico’s election night analysis. It will begin on C-SPAN at 8 p.m. until victory and concession speeches begin. Politico will continue on C-SPAN2 from 10 p.m.-12 a.m.

Why watch: CSPAN is a great joy on days like this; it is an otherworldly experience, where hype, spin, baloney, predictions and so forth have been eliminated. It's like watching a football game with the sound turned off. There's real pleasure in that. But I'm intrigued by that simulcast of Politico.

PBS NewsHour: Beginning at 8 a.m. online, continuing through the regular PBS NewsHour broadcast and until at least midnight, the PBS NewsHour politics team will provide in-depth reports, extensive analysis and live results until the winner of the White House is announced and beyond. Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff will co-anchor the evening’s broadcast and will be in the studio with be the NewsHour’s regular analysts, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks. Jeffrey Brown will talk about down-ticket races and national trends with NewsHour political editor Christina Bellantoni and Stuart Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report. Hari Sreenivasan will showcase the multilayered NewsHour Digital Map Center while examining battleground states.

Why watch: For sobriety. Plus, I tend to listen closely when Stuart Rothenberg is on the air — he seems to have best grasp of where the electoral votes will be cast.

CNN: No holograms! Sorry, but kicking off at 6 p.m., Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper will anchor from Washington, with Candy Crowley in Boston and Erin Burnett in Ohio. Per TV Newser, "This will be CNN’s first election night anchored from Washington, where the network recently unveiled new state-of-the-art facilities." CNN is deploying more than two dozen reporters across the country. Jim Acosta will be at the Romney campaign headquarters in Boston, while Jessica Yellin, Dan Lothian and Brianna Keilar will be at the Obama headquarters in Chicago. John King at the Magic Wall.

Why watch: CNN has placed reporters in all the key battleground states, and these boots on the ground have already given it a nice you-are-there feel. Plus, it'll be interesting to see how that new D.C. facility will add to the festivities.

CBS Evening News” Anchor Scott Pelley will lead CBS’ election night coverage from 7 p.m.-2 a.m., and will use eight studios in the CBS Broadcast Center in New York, including Studio 57, the newest studio and the home of “CBS This Morning.” Joining Pelley will be “Face the Nation” moderator Bob Schieffer, “CBS This Morning” co-anchor Norah O’Donnell and CBS News political director John Dickerson.

Why watch: Foremost, it's Scott Pelley's first national election, plus there's something nice, calm, intelligent and solid about CBS News' coverage on nights like these. Schieffer has more experience in this sort of thing than anyone else on the air, and he provides the necessary ballast.

Fox News Channel: Megyn Kelly and Bret Baier anchoring on election night, while Shepard Smith will be anchoring on the Fox Broadcast Channel, joined by joined by senior political analyst Brit Hume, “Fox News Sunday” moderator Chris Wallace, as well as contributors Joe Trippi, Karl Rove, Juan Williams, Stephen Haynes and Kirsten Powers. Bill O’Reilly and “On the Record” host Greta Van Susteren will be providing commentary, and Van Susteren will also interview Fox News contributor Sarah Palin during the evening.

Why watch: This could be the choice for most viewers tonight. It should be a huge night for FNC, and what's fun about FNC on nights like this is the sheer unvarnished energy. Also, election night tends to be a night when the network puts a muzzle on the right-wing tilt; it's a night when FNC actually is fair and balanced, and is also very aggressive. This is an exciting place to be, and with Sarah Palin aboard, possibly even unintentionally funny.

NBC Nightly News: Brian Williams heads up NBC’s coverage from Rockefeller Plaza — dubbed Democracy Plaza from now through Election Day. David Gregory and Savannah Guthrie will join Williams at the anchor desk. Tom Brokaw looks at historical trends, Chuck Todd reports electoral story lines via a studio equipped with augmented reality, Pete Williams reports on voter irregularities, Andrea Mitchell follows key congressional races, and Lester Holt follows governor’s races and down-ballot issues.

Why watch: NBC News is terrific on nights like this, and — if I may betray a personal bias — one of my favored destinations. There's Brokaw, a legend, who will bring gravitas and intelligence. There's also 30 Rock. A big map on the ice will slowly turn red and blue. There's some gimmicky that will record electoral votes.

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