A Field Guide to Election-Night Insanity

From ABC's Breitbart beef to CNN's “Election Matrix,” here's what the networks have planned for you

It's time for America to choose — a network to watch the elections on, that is.

And the coverage styles are even more diverse than you might think.

Though the polls have just opened for Tuesday’s midterms, the crush of television — and online — media covering them, “election night” started days ago.

With Republicans looking for a big turnout in 2010, Fox News led the early-bird election coverage among the major cable networks, dispatching its weekday lineup heavy-hitters (minus Bill O'Reilly) over the weekend.

Other strategies:

ABC News is responding to the surging right by adding conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart online;

CBS News will go with regular updates instead of wall-to-wall;

NBC News is expanding its footprint by pre-empting its late-night slate;

MSNBC plans TV's longest continuous coverage;

• and CNN will roll out yet another dizzying suite of new technology.

Here’s a closer look at the major cable and broadcast networks have planned for election night. (All times ET.)

ABC NEWS — BREIT IDEAS (ONLINE)

Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos anchor live coverage of election results during ABC’s “Vote 2010,” beginning with a special edition of “World News with Diane Sawyer” at 6:30 p.m. Full coverage continues "until at least 4:00 a.m.” with special reports at the top and bottom of each hour, followed by a live, 90-minute special at 9:30 p.m.

ABC News also will live-stream not just its network coverage but a special online program — anchored by Sawyer and Stephanopoulos. (ABC News’ iPad app will allow users to play a “What If” game in which players “imagine different scenarios for Senate and House races through an interactive touch-screen map.”)

And the network stirred up controversy over its election night plan by inviting Andrew Breitbart, the conservative publisher and provocateur, to participate. Breitbart wrote in a post on his website that he was invited to a planned ABC-Facebook “digital town hall” and would also be featured on TV, sparking the ire of liberal pundits, who lashed out at ABC for agreeing to give him an on-air platform. But according to ABC, Breitbart's role is online-only.

CBS NEWS — WE INTERRUPT THIS NETWORK

CBS, with its top-rated primetime slate, is comparatively limiting its election-night coverage. “CBS Evening News” host Katie Couric anchors "Campaign 2010: Election Night" from 10 to 11 p.m., and again from 1to 2 a.m. — providing updates at the top of each hour, including primetime. Politi-coverage veterans Bob Schieffer and Jeff Greenfield will be along to assist. The network also will produce a pair of hour-long webcasts on CBSNews.com — one at 9 p.m. and another at midnight.

Online, CBS News is partnering with Google to “showcase election search trends, as well as data from YouTube about popular political videos, to provide insights into Americans' thoughts and interests.” CBS’ special election night coverage will also stream live on the news division’s YouTube channel.

NBC NEWS — WHO NEEDS LATE NIGHT? THERE'S AN ELECTION ON

Last month, NBC touted “unprecedented” expanded coverage for its broadcast network, announcing that it will pre-empt "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" on election night to air extended coverage.

Brian Williams will anchor "Decision 2010" from 30 Rock, joined by "Meet the Press" moderator David Gregory and BW’s “Nightly News” predecessor Tom Brokaw. Correspondents Andrea Mitchell, Savannah Guthrie and Washington bureau chief Mark Whitaker will contribute, too. NBC News Political Director and Chief White House Correspondent Chuck Todd — now a fu manchu-ed election-night staple — will conduct live results analysis for both NBC News and MSNBC.

Oh, and “virtual reality technology will be used to help demonstrate polling results and analysis" and "iPads and touch screen technology will be used throughout.”

MSNBC — THE MARATHONERS

Meanwhile, MSNBC plans to offer possibly the longest continuous election coverage of any network, with planned programming from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and “Morning Joe” to be broadcast in front of a live studio audience from 30 Rock’s studio 8H from 6 to 9 a.m.

Evening coverage will be led by Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O'Donnell and MSNBC contributor Eugene Robinson from its election headquarters in New York. (MSNBC shipped Ed Schultz off to Las Vegas to cover the Harry Reid-Sharron Angle Senate race.)

The cable news network has a ton of special online coverage planned as well, including “a hashtag mosaic” using “the avatars of users who tweet the hashtag #electionday on Twitter [which] will become a part of a mosaic embedded on msnbc.com.”
 
FOX NEWS — RUNNING ON HUMES

Fox will present continuous live coverage co-anchored by Bret Baier and Megyn Kelly beginning at 6 p.m.  The coverage will kick off with a one-hour “Special Report with Bret Baier” followed by Shepard Smith at 7.  Baier and Kelly will then lead the network’s coverage, “America’s Election HQ” from New York beginning at 8, joined by senior political analyst Brit Hume and a panel of FNC contributors, including ex-NPR analyst Juan Williams and Karl Rove. Martha MacCallum and Bill Hemmer also will cover exit polls “on the giant Touch Screen.”

A rotating panel of FNC contributors including Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich will be on-call (and figure to be featured prominently), while O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren “will also weigh in with their perspectives and analysis during their respective primetime hours.”

FNC plans live election coverage on Foxnews.com, including, of course, "American's Election HQ Midterm 2010 Map."

CNN — BELLS, WHISTLES AND THE MATRIX

CNN, which perennially shoves its hi-tech election gadgetry down viewers' throats, is planning even more.

Wolf Blitzer anchors CNN’s coverage beginning at 7 p.m., with Anderson Cooper, Candy Crowley, John King and Soledad O’Brien all contributing to “Election Night in America.”

The network plans to “create a live and interactive environment, called the ‘CNN Election Matrix.’” Oh boy:

With this tool, [John, thankfully not Larry] King visually will whip through a comprehensive amount of information to better explain to viewers the most competitive House and Senate races. In an election filled with partisanship and strong anti-incumbent feelings, viewers will see the race through the lens of incumbencies: which incumbents have fallen, when they were elected, the nationwide impact and more. Additionally, the ‘CNN Election Matrix’ will create a virtual representation of which party is gaining ground and potential shifts in the balance of power.

“We are taking capabilities of the Data Wall and quadrupling it in order to report the story in the clearest way we can,” CNN Washington bureau chief David Bohrman said of the network’s “Matrix” plan. “Viewers are ready for a rich meal of election items and with CNN’s technology on air and online, paired with the best political team, we will serve an unparalleled election night experience.”

At 3 a.m., CNN will broadcast an early edition of “American Morning.” Let’s just hope the will.i.am hologram doesn’t come back for an encore.