Election 2012: From Brian Williams to Jon Stewart to Shep Smith, how each network covered the election

From Brian Williams on NBC to Shep Smith on Fox, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central to Katie Couric on ABC, EW took in every corner of the election coverage on Tuesday night (and early Wednesday morning). Here are the highlights! 

NBC:

Brian Williams, Comedian Joined by David Gregory, Savannah Guthrie, Tom Brokaw, Andrea Mitchell, Lester Holt, Tamron Hall, and Chuck Todd (doing double duty on MSNBC), anchor Brian Williams kept things lively and witty throughout the night, dryly tossing off a series of seemingly off-the-cuff one liners that had his colleagues (and likely many audiences) laughing, and solidifying Williams as the coolest cat headlining a news organization’s election coverage. Here are his five top moments:

To Hall, delivering exit polling results from the ice rink on Rockefeller Center (sorry, “Democracy Plaza”), Williams said, “Actually on the ice, like a New York Ranger out there! That’s really brave of you.” And then later: “I’ve been assured [Tamron Hall] is on a piece of non-skid carpeting on the ice tonight. There’s been concern expressed on Twitter.”

After Guthrie noted that Florida’s tight vote margin had a Democrat emailing her about “2,000 beepers going off right now for all the lawyers that are already in Florida,” Williams responded, “They still use beepers down there, do they?”

Covering the significant number of marijuana legalization state-wide initiatives, Williams noted, “In plain English, there’s a whole lot of weed on the ballot tonight.”

When Obama campaign official David Axelrod noted that if the Romney campaign was on NBC’s electoral map rink, they would be “skating on thin ice,” Williams groaned, “Oh, you had that one ready. You’ve been working on that one for days.”

And then after cutting to Chuck Todd speaking mid-sentence, Williams said with a wry smile, “That was Chuck Todd on our sister network, MSNBC. I’m sure he was making vast amounts of sense, just not on a question we had….Is it sister network, or brother network? Or is it gender neutral?” —Adam B. Vary

COMEDY CENTRAL:

With a Little Help from Jean-Luc Picard Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert broke protocol and aired their elections episodes live. Joining Jon was another Stewart, Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Patrick Stewart, who narrated the opening, introducing a few special guests who did not actually appear on the show — including George Stephanopoulos, Soledad O’Brien, Linda Ellerbee, Jim Cantore, Anderson Cooper and his golden saxophone, Bob Schieffer, Tom Brokaw, Hoda Kotb and Kathee Lee Gifford. Between Jon Oliver’s iPad arms, and Samantha Bee’s interviews with undecided voters, Stewart called the election for Obama, shortly after many major networks. In the amusing handoff to The Colbert Report, we learned that Stephen Colbert is on “Team Edward.” Colbert then began his half hour by declaring that the top story of the night was his mother’s birthday. After calling the election himself and before interviewing conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan, Colbert quipped that “America is a quick drunk and an easy lay.” —Denise Warner

FOX:

Sassy Shep! Anchor Shepard Smith, normally of the Fox News Channel, emceed the Fox network’s coverage of the election, and also had a few well put turns of phrase throughout the night. (More on Fox News further below.) Some highlights:

On Virginia at 7 p.m. ET: “Right now, the Fox News decision team has decided that the race in the state of Virginia is way too close to call, too close to project, too close to think about a winner. It’s too close to have any idea what’s happened…” (But let’s talk about it now anyway!)

Breaking News! State of Georgia has gone Republican! “A little secret,” Shep admits at 7:51 p.m. ET. “A slight little mistake was made in the booth and the thinking was that we were about to call the state of Virginia…” Nope. Just Georgia. But we appreciate his honesty.

Another little mistake: Shep said we’re going to talk to Ed Gillespie, senior advisor to the Romney campaign, for the “Democratic perspective” on early voting results in Florida: “Something that I thought you’re probably liking, and that’s out of the state of Florida where you won by 4 percent in the early voting – [to person in his earpiece] what’s that? — I’m sorry, Ed. One that you would find of note, and that is that you lost by 4 percent in the early voting. What does that tell you about the rest of the night?” Gillespie spun an answer, but at that moment, a woman was singing the National Anthem at Romney HQ, so Smith stopped him. “I’m gonna wait ‘til the National Anthem’s over because I think talking over it is not something we ought to do. I’m gonna go back to the panel for just a moment. [To panel] There we go. You know how fast we’re goin’ [if] we’re callin’ Ed Gillespie a Democrat.”

And another little mistake: “The state of Idaho, a Republican stronghold, goes to Mitt Romney. Oh look at that, 91 votes to 52 votes,” Shep said of the graphic onscreen. “We’re very sure of ourselves around here.”

At 11:16 p.m. ET, the “decision team” finally calls it. At 11:30 p.m. ET, Shep called for speeches and made one of his own: “Barack Obama wins a second term and his acceptance speech will be coming in the minutes ahead, and Mitt Romney will be congratulating him, I’m quite sure, as the nation tries to figure out a way to come together after one of the most polarizing, brutal, expensive, and at times just disgusting campaigns anybody’s ever seen. That last part was bipartisan in every way. Dragged through the mud is the understatement of the year. The names that they’ve called each other, the fibs that they’ve told about each other, the ads that they have paid for to tear down the other side beginning all the way back in the primaries, it’s been absolutely brutal. And if the goal was to divide the populace, well they succeeded because right now in living rooms across America, one side is absolutely livid and worried that the nation is about to collapse, and the other side is thankful that the Republicans didn’t get in there and destroy what progress had been made. It depends on your point of view. But people are divided and divided that seriously. And I don’t need to tell you that, you know it.” After outlining what needed to be done, he concluded by saying the people in Washington work for us. “Maybe it’s time to demand that they work together.”

Someone outside the White House is a Team America fan: At 11:38 p.m. ET, Fox decided to listen in to the crowd outside the White House. A man off-camera is heard yelling, “America, f— yeah!”

12:05 a.m. ET, and Shep is amazed that we haven’t heard a Romney concession speech yet:  “He’s not conceding. Maybe he sees something in campaign data that nobody else on planet Earth sees.” —Mandi Bierly

MSNBC:

Keeping the Partying to a Minimum The arguably left-leaning cable news network seemed almost disappointed that President Obama’s victory was so easy and predictable. Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Ed Schulz, Steve Schmidt, Chuck Todd, Al Sharpton, and Lawrence O’Donnell were on hand. They did an admirable job of limiting their gloating, perhaps fearful of jinxing themselves when the going got good. Maddow was a fine point-person, but Matthews was typically wild. As the show went to commercial, he could repeatedly be heard yelling things across the newsroom. They spoke with a few insiders throughout the night, but no one from the Romney camp. (Former Ohio secretary of state Ken Blackwell was the only conservative.) In fact, Howard Fineman said his Republican contacts had ceased responding to his requests/questions. After Karl Rove erupted on Fox News, Maddow called him out for making a stink when he’s so heavily invested in one of the biggest Republican super PACs. —Jeff Labrecque

FOX NEWS:

Gloom descended early on Fox News election HQ. Even before the decisive numbers started rolling in, network mascot Bill O’Reilly swung by just long enough to express frustrated disdain with the electorate. “It’s not a traditional America anymore,” he said. “We’re becoming more like Western Europe.” Celebrity drop-ins were at a minimum, although Sarah Palin did briefly appear via satellite from Wasilla — just long enough to say that she was “disappointed” with the early numbers. As those numbers started to come in — tilted decisively in Obama’s direction — the conversation mostly shifted into a debate about where Romney went wrong (coasting on the first debate; not reaching out to non-white voters) and what the next four years of Obama would look like (more of the same, even worse). (Click here for our full report on pundit Karl Rove’s refusal to concede Ohio to Obama, leading to an elaborate and extremely confusing game of political theater.) Co-host Megyn Kelly was the one Fox News reporter who never seemed to lose faith in a Romney victory, which led to one of the great exchanges of the 2012 political media: After the brain trust explained that the remaining swing states were very precarious dominoes, Kelly said: “If any one falls, it’s bad for Romney. But if they all go his way, he could win the presidency!” —Darren Franich

ABC:

Katie Couric, Social Media Expert Need a young, hip correspondent to decode what the kids are saying on Twitter and Facebook and Friendster? Look no further than Katie Couric, who was inexplicably drafted to serve as ABC’s social media correspondent on Election Night. Periodically, anchors Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos threw to Couric, decked out in her finest hipster glasses. The talk show host gamely read aloud tweets and status messages written by civilians and celebrities alike — though she never quite managed to shake her general aura of embarrassment. Even curiouser: While reading off social media stats, Couric’s eyes kept darting down to the sheet of normal, analog paper she clutched in her hands. So much for digital integration.

Diane Sawyer’s Behavior Raises Eyebrows Search Sawyer’s name on Twitter, and you’ll find dozens of messages asking the same question: “Is Diane Sawyer drunk?” Throughout the evening, Sawyer’s slumped posture and sing-songy timbre seemed to indicate that something was off for the news vet. Large numbers of Twitter users swore that she was slurring her words as well. Strangely enough, Social Media Correspondent Katie Couric never mentioned this particular trending topic. —Hillary Busis

CNN:

John King loves his map, hates his handwriting
CNN took great pleasure in making projections last night. (Big projections. Big. Huge.) But as much fun as the network enjoyed the build up, no one seemingly had more fun last night on the cable net than John King, who kept track of state-by-state percentages on a touch-screen map with pluck, enthusiasm, and even a little humor. When it came time for King to pen totals on his screen, he chided himself: “The nuns are going to be mad at my messy handwriting there.” —Sandra Gonzalez

CBS:

Lean/Likely/Calling It In the network’s buzziest event — that recurred throughout the evening — a graph came over the screen featuring the swing states. After the polls closed, they shifted a digital box over a “Lean” column and a “Likely” column. It was a way for CBS to project a state without having to “call” a state officially right out of the gate. Beyond that, the CBS News coverage featured anchor Scott Pelley having a serious conversation in-studio with Bob Schieffer and Norah O’Donnell. They had interviews with Bob McDonnell, Valerie Jarrett, Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod throughout the broadcast. When CBS called the presidential election at 11:16 p.m. ET (the same time they called Ohio), they were mid-local news segment when Pelley cut in, saying: “We have something important to report in the election.” The quote of the broadcast, after CBS called for Obama, came from Schieffer: “As I said earlier tonight, there just aren’t that many old white men left.” —Erin Strecker

Read more:
Election 2012: When did the networks call it for Obama?
Election 2012 poll: What’s your favorite TV coverage gimmick?
Twitter reaction to Obama win: Trump goes on tirade, RuPaul tells Romney to ‘sashay away’

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