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How to win the TV debate: Michael Cockerell

Well, if you weren’t already excited by the prospect of the political leaders’ TV debates and persuaded that this is a turning point for UK politics, then Michael Cockerell’s fascinating How to win the TV debate should have changed your mind. 

This was great television:  television doing best what only it can do.  So good that I re-watched it on iPlayer immediately (and then replayed the best bits again).  It should be compulsory viewing for all voters.

In little under an hour, it provided an informed and engaging sweep across televised Presidential debates in the US, starting with the initial Nixon-Kennedy clash in 1960.  And carefully, as the years and decades went by, it linked them across to the UK elections and leaders and the similar debates they often talked about, but avoided having.

This of course had the huge advantage of being TV analysing the production and impact of TV – but it used the vast range of historic footage it had skilfully and at just the right pace.  It was laced together with insightful analysis from the vastly experienced political reporter, Michael Cockerell (who nicely established his credentials mid-way by including a clip from 1979 of his questioning candidate Reagan).

What made this programme fly was indeed the fine selection and presentation of archive material, drawing in Presidents and Prime Ministers and wannabe Presidents and Prime Ministers alike, plus their raft of advisers and political commentators reflecting on the debates. 

Those candidates that did shine through the TV lens still standout:  Clinton, even with all we know about him, was still exhilarating both in interview and in the TV debate.  I’d vote for him tomorrow.

It also showed what went through their minds and how they and their advisers prepared.  It had great behind the scenes footage, such as Presidents Ford and Obama preparing:  Gerald Ford practicing by literally taking on a cumbersome old TV playing clips of Carter, not that it availed him much in reality. Continue reading

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