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Careful packaging is turning viewers off // Her words soften even TV anchors

Elizabeth Dole is great television, and she took the networks by storm Wednesday night.

The cameras followed her graceful sweep through the hall, shooting from as many angles as a football game, offering close-ups, wide shots and cutaways to Bob Dole beaming in his hotel room.

Anchors who had griped about the Republican Convention for three days offered astonished praise for Mrs. Dole.

"This was by anyone's standards a tremendous performance," said Dan Rather on CBS. "It was not so much Oprah as My Fair Liddy."

Her speech, combined with Sen. John McCain's nomination of the war hero for president, seemed to soften up some of the anchors, who suddenly decided Dole is not a bad guy.

Sam Donaldson of ABC took pains to explain that Dole has trouble expressing emotion. "Those of us who have covered him all these years will tell you it is there," he said. "The story that John McCain told almost brings tears to your eyes."

The two speeches were among the few events Wednesday night that all the networks felt compelled to share with those of us at home.

Minutes earlier, the three big networks skipped daughter Robin Dole's charming talk about growing up with the gruff senator while their anchors launched the coverage at 10 p.m.

All day, the tug-of-war continued between the GOP and the networks in San Diego, where bored, overpaid news celebrities were indignant at finding no news to cover.

"This is like a Super Bowl without the game," groused CNN's Larry King.

Ted Koppel was so disgusted that he packed up Nightline and went back to Washington.

"This convention is more of an infomercial than a news event," he huffed at the close of Tuesday's show. "Nothing surprising has happened, nothing surprising is anticipated."

That's exactly the way the Republicans planned it. This is not a news event, it's a pep rally.

"The political people have figured out a way to outrun the networks," said ABC's Jeff Greenfield. "We would never take what Elizabeth Dole did as a video."

The Republican Party has managed to pull off a happy, upbeat convention, and the networks can't stand it. Their attitude seems to be that if the Republicans aren't going to pull each other's hair out, TV should take its toys and go home.

This is why Americans hate the media.

HOSTILITY: CNN played up the disgruntled Buchanan delegates who couldn't cast votes for their man Wednesday night, and the CNN anchors didn't hesitate to take sides.

"That is one thing about this convention I find very off-putting," said Ken Bode.

Bode also had harsh words for Jack Kemp, saying he "did a double-back dive, 10 degree of difficulty" on immigration.

"They're trying to say this is the way he's always felt _ it doesn't wash," said William Schneider.

"You expect to be spun at a convention like this, but you don't have to believe it," said Bode.

"You don't have to have your intelligence insulted, either," Bernard Shaw chimed in.

On CBS, Rather called Kemp "Bob Dole's new convertible."

COMEDY: There's some relief at Comedy Central, if you don't mind dirty words, tasteless jokes and lame sketches.

Bill Maher, the host of Politically Incorrect, actually got Oliver North to answer seriously which party Jesus might have belonged to.

"I think Jesus would like to see us have a little bit left in our pockets so we could (take are of) the poor rather than have the government pretend to do it," said Lt. Col. Sincerity.

Arianna Huffington and comedian Al Franken do a nightly sketch called Strange Bedfellows. They're piled up in bed under a red, white and blue quilt, trading unfunny jabs about liberals and conservatives.

The two are also reporters on the floor, where Arianna flummoxed Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison by asking if she didn't think Elizabeth Dole and Joanne Kemp have great legs.

"I must admit I don't have a big view on that issue," Hutchison said. "I'm speechless for the first time in my life."

RATINGS: A combined 11.1-million viewers watched the convention on ABC, NBC and CBS on Tuesday night, down by 1-million from the night before. CNN and PBS won another 3.5-million.

Convention ratings for the big three have tumbled 16 percent since the Republicans were in Houston in 1992 and 33 percent since 1988.

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