Forget the luxury-suite studios soaring above the convention stage, the morning-show stars flown in for an on-scene dispatch and the armies of television crews and correspondents trawling the arena floor for rebellious delegates.
This year's political conventions — usually a TV spectacle — are rapidly shrinking in the face of the coronavirus. And so are the coverage plans of the networks, which are expecting the usual media circus to resemble something closer to a county fair.
The TV networks are planning to keep correspondents stationed outside the convention venues, where the risk of COVID-19 transmission is lower. Instead of sitting in custom-built skybox studios in Jacksonville and Milwaukee, many anchors and commentators will offer analyses from desks in Washington and New York — or perhaps even from their home quarantines.
"We know it's going to be more constrained," said John Dickerson, CBS News anchor and political historian. "There will be less coverage of the nooks and crannies."
Networks typically fly hundreds of crew members to convention cities, where they construct elaborate sets and maintain an on-the-ground newsroom. In a pandemic, those plans have been mostly abandoned.
Even basic transportation is proving to be a headache. Bret Baier, Fox News' chief political anchor, said that instead of flying, he might drive to the conventions. "We'll mask up, use our Purell and get there," he said.
In interviews, anchors and executives at the major TV news networks — all of whom emphasized that their plans were not yet final — said that employee safety would be the top priority.
The Democrats have moved their convention to a smaller venue. But officials at the Republican National Committee have continued to insist that President Donald Trump's convention will resemble the full-throated fête that the president yearns for, although they admit that planning has been difficult because many donors are waiting to see how the virus will affect the event.
The Republicans' focus on a packed house has caused some tension on weekly planning calls between the party and network executives. "There's a fairly broad and deep consensus that indoor gatherings of large quantities of people are not safe, at least according to most public health authorities," said Noah Oppenheim, president of NBC News. "We are not going to send our reporters into packed arenas, if such things exist."
As in the past, all of the networks will rely on a universal camera feed of the convention stage, where major speakers appear. This time, the networks also are planning to expand this so-called "pool" feed to include other events in smaller spaces, like delegates' breakfasts.
TV programmers face another conundrum: Unlike past election years, the presidential campaign is not the No. 1 news story in the country. "It's clear now that the COVID crisis has not yet been solved, and of course the national reckoning about race and policing is an enormous story," said Sam Feist, CNN's Washington bureau chief. "Most election years the election is the biggest story, sometimes the only story. In 2020, that's just not the case."