Election '97: Battle of the small screen giants

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Indy Politics
Election coverage on BBC1 runs from 9.55pm to at least midday on the following day. The BBC has drawn on a roman amphitheatre theme to create a purple, gold and silver central stage for its three main presenters who will be surrounded by a series of tiered walkways that rise upwards into the rafters of the BBC's largest studio.

More than 200 research, technical and political staff will appear as backdrop on the walkways to the main presenters, David Dimbleby, Peter Snow and Jeremy Paxman, who has been allowed into the studio for his first election results show.

Central to the BBC's presentation as ever is the enthusiastic Peter Snow and his array of computer-generated graphics. This year Snow will be able to call up an election 'computer game' to represent the election battleground with seats being smashed up by animated rivals.

He will also bring back the racing battle buses that featured in the Wirral South by-election result programme, and can create a three dimensional 'virtual reality' House of Commons. He will also have a giant swingometer.

Dimbleby, who is hosting his fifth results show, will operate a massive video wall to talk to constituencies and politicians and screen more results graphics. Paxman and Dimbleby will both interview politicians, but the BBC makes no bones about the fact that Paxman is there to provide some sparks. The presentation team will also include the BBC's political editor Robin Oakley, Professor Anthony King from Essex University and polling specialist Peter Kellner.

ITV: 10pm to 4 am

ITN has committed itself to its most ostentatious results night ever by taking over the whole atrium of its flashy Sir Norman Foster-designed London headquarters to create a studio big enough for its election night programme. The set was specially built to accommodate an audience of members of the public for the first time. The audience was selected by MORI to be representative of voters and will be given the opportunity to question politicians appearing on the programme. The audience will also be interviewed by Sue Lawley about how and why they voted.

Jonathan Dimbleby will host ITV's big night for the first time - going head to head against his big brother on the BBC and conducting the main political interviews by video link. He will be supported by ITN's political editor Michael Brunson who will be interviewing politicians and political analysts. ITN has signed up Professor David Butler of Oxford and Dr Colin Rallings of the University of Plymouth for number crunching.

The other reason for the special studio is to give ITV room for its most ambitious challenge to Peter Snow's graphical wizardry. Presenter Alastair Stewart will control a 20-foot video wall that will be used to illustrate the different political battlegrounds and will host a giant swingometer. ITV also has a three-dimensional virtual reality model of the House of Commons that will rise from the floor and change colour as results come in.

Sky News 9pm to next day

Sky News, as the only 24 hour news service, is making much of the fact that it goes on and on through the night and into the next day, raising questions about when and whether its political editor, Adam Boulton, sleeps. Coverage will be introduced by Laurie Meyer and will also feature a virtual reality House of Commons and a 'results strap' on screen constantly giving the positions of the parties throughout the night. Expert guests lined up include Des Wilson, former Liberal Democrat campaign chairman, former Thatcher aide Sir Bernard Ingham and retiring Tory MP Steven Norris.

BBC 2

Even on BBC 2 you cannot escape the election, although it will probably be more fun. Satirist Armando Iannucci, who created The Day Today, hosts The Election Night Armistice a live studio programme which will give results and poke fun at politics.

Channel 4

Channel 4 is fulfilling its remit by providing an alternative to everyone else. It is airing the Robbie Coltraine comedy The Pope Must Die, where thanks to a mix up Coltraine's humble parish priest becomes Pope, thus upsetting the Mafia's plans to secure St Peter's throne for their own man. At 10.50 this is followed by a Stephen King thriller Maximum Overdrive.

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