Gayle King has been a TV anchor for many years and many election cycles. But she’s never had an Election Night experience like this one.
The “CBS This Morning” anchor was part of the live team that anchored CBS’ coverage from 7 p.m. ET on Tuesday until just after 3 a.m. ET Wednesday on a wild night of seesawing numbers and partisan jousting over the vote-counting process. She was back on the air live from 6 a.m.-noon ET on Wednesday.
“I am cock-eyed tired,” King admitted.
King had been prepared for a late night on Tuesday but was surprised when her assistant told her she’d need to be back on air at 6 a.m. ET. At that point, wearing the yellow dress that she wore on air, King decided rather than heading home she would grab a few winks on a couch in the green room of MTV’s “TRL” studio, which was near the special Election Night headquarters set that CBS News set up in the Times Square headquarters of ViacomCBS.
“I slept in my clothes and my Spanx,” King told Variety in a telephone interview that she graciously granted at 12:45 p.m. ET while still wearing her same sunny frock. “I thought I would have enough time to go hop in the tub. When my assistant said ‘We’re going at 6’ I said ‘What?’ ”
When the CBS News group reassembled on air early Wednesday, King joked about the wardrobe issue that was obvious to keen-eyed viewers. “How many of you are still wearing the same clothes as yesterday,” she asked her colleagues.
King knew Election Night 2020 would be a roller-coaster ride. As the polls closed Tuesday evening, she was eager to get the first real glimpse of how the electorate was feeling, and she was encouraged but what is shaping up to be a record turnout of Americans at the polls.
“You’d heard so many different scenarios about how it could go,” she said. ” ‘Oh it’s going to be an early night. Oh, it’s going to be a landslide.’ What we knew going in was that we had unprecedented numbers of people doing early voting so that was very exciting.”
King acknowledged feeling “such angst and anxiety” in recent days. “It’s never good when you see the plywood come out. There was plywood on Bed, Bath and Beyond and Pottery Barn stores as I was driving to work” on Tuesday, King said.
“Election day is supposed to be celebratory. You’re going in to do your vote and do your part,” she said. “To hear that the National Guard is on standby and gun sales are up. I felt very anxious about this election and all that comes with it in a country so divided.”
At the same time she felt great pride in the fact that “the American people spoke up and really engaged. People showed up and showed out.”
Another big change this year was dealing with high-tech augmented reality graphics to help visually explain the electoral dynamic across the country.
“We were very well prepared and rehearsed,” King said. “With the augmented reality stuff, you’ve got (Congressional correspondent) Nancy Cordes talking to the floor. But on the screen viewers see a map of Congress. So we had to rehearse all of that.”
The rush of covering election results is one of the great tests of broadcast news professionals, King observed. “You have reams of material prepared but after a while you’re just reacting to what is happening in real time. You prepare, prepare, prepare but on game day something happens. That’s what I love about live TV.”
CBS News like other major news orgs showed major restraint in covering the horse-race aspect of the state-by-state returns. There was a clear effort across the major networks to be cautious in calling winners in states with thin margins where mail-in ballots could make all the difference. King said for CBS News, restraint is standard practice.
“Certainly in a presidential election you’re very mindful of everything you say and every graphic you post. We really pride ourselves on that.”
King also credited her CBS News colleague Norah O’Donnell, “CBS Evening News” anchor, for steering a “coherent conversation” among the election night team that included Eye veterans John Dickerson, Margaret Brennan, Ed O’Keefe, Anthony Salvanto and Major Garrett.
“There are so many moving parts as you might imagine,” King said. “They know this stuff backwards and forward and in their sleep.”
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