Al 'n' Dubya Shows Are Too Boring for Prime Time

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Tune in to ABC at the start of the Republican and Democratic national conventions on July 31 and August 14, and you'll see grown men smashing heads and dragging each other to the ground. No, it's not the Reform party — it's Monday Night Football! The Alphabet Network has decided to go with two preseason games rather than the traditional prime-time coverage of democracy's twin infomercials, consigning the political action to halftime.

The networks started scaling back their coverage in 1996, when the big stories were Dick Morris' hooker's toes and Ted Koppel walking out for lack of news. Viewers' attention spans were still too short: Ratings dropped 26 percent from 1992 for the GOP and 18 percent for the Democrats. So this time around, American politics' quadrennial summer showcase is being consigned to cable — and PBS, of course — where the junkies and the partisans can drink their fill.

Sad, but understandable. Except for the announcement of the running mate, today's conventions are indeed about as unpredictable as a pregame locker-room speech, all hype and balloons and no suspense. We know who wins. We only hear what the party planners decide we should. And news organizations are starting to wonder whether they should keep playing along. NBC will leave the bulk of the coverage to sister MSNBC; CBS would probably be better off with 'Survivor' reruns, akin to MNF's August 15 game, Tennessee vs. St. Louis, a rerun of last year's Super Bowl. At least next January's combatants aren't already settled.