Without convention floors and podiums to cover, the cable channels and other outlets gave the Democratic National Committee extraordinary control over the evening’s content. Not only did that sideline the anchor folk for much of the proceedings, but it also allowed for a smooth and surprisingly rich program of videos and live speeches to flow dynamically from segment to segment. And with actress Eva Longoria Bastón serving as a serene and confident host from a Los Angeles studio, Night 1 of the four-night production came across as an elegant, multidimensional campaign ad.
We’ll see whether the content and thematic variation are sufficient to sustain interest over the course of several days. Smartly, the Democrats front-loaded sequences featuring voters from across the country who have made former vice president Joe Biden their choice and gave them the opportunity to spell out why they had done so. It turns out that when staring at their laptops in comfortable surroundings, many people find an extra level of composure and self-assurance.
This came through time and again — most affectingly when Bastón turned to the video wall to greet Kristin Urquiza of San Francisco, who told the story of her father, Mark, a supporter of the current president. Mark Urquiza, 65, died in an Arizona hospital of covid-19.
Her words punched through the television screen in a blast that all but took the wind out of a viewer. “His only preexisting condition was trusting Donald Trump,” she said, “and he paid with his life.”
With the exception of an occasional electronic frying of the digital images, the technical complexity was handled impressively. An opening Zoom-style tableau showcased a chorus of young people from every state, territory and the District singing a moving version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Audiences were spared much of the mundane ritual of the convention (although the roll-call vote occurs Tuesday); after the chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, gaveled the “meeting” to order, Bastón expertly escorted the viewing audience through the myriad segments and speeches, most lasting just a few minutes.
You’d think you’d miss the visceral excitement of an arena with delegates clustered under state signboards. But that energy tends to feel manufactured for the camera crews, and the speeches in the hall rarely live up to the anticipation; America doesn’t mint many orators nowadays. You were grateful on Monday night for the interludes of officeholders reading short remarks off prompters and then disappearing.
It is always authentic emotion that the camera records most rewardingly on film and in close-up; the best parts of the first evening often reflected genuinely expressed feelings, like those of a White farmer in Pennsylvania and a Black student in New Jersey. An account, in pictures, of Biden’s relationships with Amtrak workers on his commuting route as a senator from Delaware between Wilmington and Washington was as perfectly pitched as an authentic slice of a politician’s life can be.
“The average guy is important to him,” a conductor narrated, as a photograph appeared of Biden with his arm around a train worker. The medium served this message supremely well.