For better or worse, 24-hour news networks have a huge impact on politics. So what better place to watch the election than in the belly of the beast? CNN invited me and John Norris to the “CNN Grill,” an elaborate viewing party at CNN HQ. Truth be told, the recipe of said “viewing party” seems to be three parts party, one part viewing and five parts vodka.
Within two seconds of grabbing my seat on a sofa in the corner, a chirpy waitress named Amber (whose energy is definitely that color) asked for my drink order and gave me a giant menu. Fun! The menu is peppered with fun little “election” tie-ins. In a twist that will surely drive Fox News and Matt Drudge crazy, most of the food items seem to be slamming the Republicans. I can order the “Mudslinger.” And I can also order something called the “Mac & Cheese” — clearly a reference to the McCain/Palin ticket.
I settled for a snack-size portion of “CNN Fries.”
Pop quiz, readers!
Of these four choices below, which one is the real description of CNN Fries?
A) Pommes frites seasoned with salt and pepper
B) Sweet potato fries served “Larry King”-style (mashed together)
C) Hand-cut fries (all carefully curved to the left)
D) Crispy fries served with cheese sauce
If you answered “D,” take a victory lap. But don’t celebrate too early — you don’t want to jinx it.
There are a lot of monitors showing CNN, but the volume is way too low to hear anything. Hopefully they’ll correct that, because Wolf Blitzer’s beard hinders my ability to lip-read.
Oh, also, there’s a rumor floating around that Joss Stone is going to show up this evening. (I hear she’s a die-hard Bill Schneider fan. Who can resist the giant touch screen?)
Things are really heating up at the CNN Grill Election Viewing Party! In order to keep up with all the excitement, I’ll timestamp my comments from here on out.
7:30 p.m.: Ninety minutes into the party, and the big guns have shown up. Behind me is Christiane Amanpour (who just got harassed by gossip icon Cindy Adams); in front of me is entertainment reporter A.J. Hammer; and to my left is Eddie Izzard! Who needs Gawker Stalker when you have me? But still no sign of Joss Stone. Although I haven’t given a hoot about her career in about four years, I’m determined to track her down tonight.
7:31 p.m.: Wait. Did I really just see a CNN reporter on a hologram? Insert “Help me Obi-Wolf — you’re my only hope” joke here.
7:35 p.m.: A.J. Hammer just joined the MTV table — the more the merrier! — and he just let us know that “The Grill” is actually CNN’s cafeteria. Classy! There’s carpeting, the view is divine, and I seriously doubt they run out of regular potatoes on “baked-potato bar” day. I think MTV can learn a thing or two. (Honestly, who wants a sweet potato with salsa and jalapenos? Ick!)
7:39 p.m.: The volume is way up now, thank goodness, although this is not prompting anyone to watch what’s happening on TV. At least I can hear. Here’s hoping that magical hologram lady returns, and here’s hoping I can track down a CNN executive to explain to me how I can buy MTV one of those hologram things. The upcoming “Idol” season would be so much more pleasant for me if I could just stay in bed and beam myself into the office.
7:41 p.m.: John Norris abandoned me to go get interviewed by CNN.com. I told him I’d give him $50 if he somehow managed to talk about the Baltimore band Ponytail during his interview about the youth vote and the election. I’m just realizing now that he’s across the room and I’ll have no idea whether he accomplished this goal. Luckily, John is an honest guy. If I made this bet with Tim Kash, not only would he tell me that he talked about Ponytail but that he sang one of their songs on the air too. (Which, if you know the band Ponytail, would be quite a hilarious thing to imagine.)
7:48 p.m.: Norris is back. No Ponytail reference, but he did just order a batch of “make your own cupcakes.” I’m jealous.
7:55 p.m.: I’m looking outside the window to an apartment building across the street, and every window I can see is watching CNN. Except for one rogue apartment, which is curling up with an episode of the “Food Network Challenge.” I love this person.
8:00 p.m.: Wolf Blitzer just announced that Obama is the projected winner in Massachusetts, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, D.C., Delaware and Maine, and the room erupted in applause. I wonder if people in the Fox News Viewing Party booed and shouted, “Kill the terrorist!”
8:01 p.m.: It’s official. Christiane Amanpour’s young son is the cutest little thing I’ve seen all day. And I’ve visited ICanHasCheezburger.com about 40 times today, so that’s saying a lot.
8:04 p.m.: John’s cupcakes have arrived. Holy crap, they look delectable. The order comes with three cupcakes — two vanilla, one chocolate — and three piping bags filled with different icing colors. Red (or, uh, orange), white and blue. How patriotic! I am 99 percent sure I saw this recipe on “Semi-Homemade With Sandra Lee.” If the icing has a hint of vanilla to “cover up that store-bought taste,” I’m so right.
8:12 p.m.: BREAKING NEWS! A.J. Hammer is introducing John Norris to Christiane Amanpour, one of his idols! I told him I’d give him 100 bucks if he talked to her about the band Deerhunter.
8:14 p.m.: CNN HD + 40-foot screen + Dana Bash = not a pretty sight.
8:15 p.m.: I am this close to asking A.J. Hammer what his real name is.
8:18 p.m.: To answer your question, yes, the CNN Viewing Party at CNN HQ still airs the commercials.
8:22 p.m.: The MTV table has designed two awesome cupcakes. (John ate the first one before we could properly decorate it. Buzzkill.) One cupcake looks like something Esther Williams would dive off of. And the other is a very cool red (or, uh, orange) and white yin-yang inspired look. Also, David Axelrod is on the big monitor talking, and nobody in the room seems to care.
8:25 p.m.: I’ve just been told that I’m sitting in a VIP section. Apparently, all the other bloggers are squished together in a separate corner that feels less “chic hotel lobby” and more “veal-fattening pen.” In your face, Julia Allison!
8:40 p.m.: Pennsylvania belongs to Barack Obama now! So apparently, people in Pennsylvania not only cling to “guns and religion” but also “hope.”
8:44 p.m.: OMG there is a band in Arizona rocking out for John McCain right now. Obama had Springsteen and will.i.am. McCain has “Cat Scratch Fever” — Phoenix’s finest Ted Nugent cover band.
8:45 p.m.: A paparazzo just asked if he could take John Norris’s picture. I told him I’d give him $200 if he put on my Crystal Stilts T-shirt for the photo.
8:51 p.m.: My poor waitress, Amber, is sweating up a storm. I want to tell her to take a seat for a breather. These rich executives can live without their mint juleps for a couple of minutes.
8:53 p.m.: A CNN PROJECTION! Elizabeth Dole is no longer a senator. And the godless viewers at the CNN Grill are elated.
8:56 p.m.: John Norris just introduced me to the executive producer of “Showbiz Tonight” on CNN. This just in: John Norris is my new agent.
9 p.m.: The “CNN PROJECTION” music is very effective. This place is totally raucous … until we hear that machine-gun rat-a-tat-tat. Like Pavlov’s bell, we all shut up and look up at the giant monitor every time. It’s especially disappointing when they’re talking about random senators in New Mexico.
9:01 p.m.: Fun fact: Every time CNN talks about Senator Jeanne Shaheen, I immediately think of Shaheem Reid, our amazing hip-hop editor. And then I think about how badass it would be if Shaheem was actually in the Senate. Shaheem Reid for Senate, 2010! New Yorkers, don’t you want this guy representing you?
9:11 p.m.: A.J. Hammer is leaving. He wants to be somewhere where he can actually hear the results. I told him he should go to any of the apartments across the way that we can see from here … except that one crazy Food Network lady. Unless the “results” he’s referring to are related to “The Great Spam Cook-Off.”
9:15 p.m.: Note to CNN: Please change your music to commercial. It sounds too much like the “projection” music, and it’s making me very anxious. Thank you. And also, thank you for this sweet, sweet viewing party. The burgers are yummy, and the Diet Coke is bountiful.
9:20 p.m.: John Norris abandoned me again to go tape an MTV News hit with Soledad O’Brien. I told him I’d pay him $500 if he convinced Soledad to say my cats’ names on CNN, along with the phrase “coolest kitties in Washington Heights!”
9:23 p.m.: Hank Williams Jr. is on CNN playing a song live from Phoenix, which marks the first time Hank Williams Jr. has been on CNN since he turned himself in to police in 2006 for “choke-holding” a 19-year-old.
9:26 p.m.: Hell, if Obama’s going to be projected as the winner this early, I better stock up on my free food and booze! “Amber! Bring me the left side of the menu at once! And I’ll try the CNN Brew, too. Papa needs his free liquor!”
9:34 p.m.: Bring-a-dat-dat-dat! Another projection! Obama wins Ohio, according to CNN’s magic wall. He now has 194 electoral votes, which means once the blue West Coast gets tallied, he’ll have all the numbers he needs. Doesn’t that mean he wins? Where’s Amber with my cheese fries?!
9:35 p.m.: People are still cheering in CNN Grill Land.
9:42 p.m.: John King is showing us that even if McCain wins the rest of the middle of the country — even the states that he “wouldn’t put money on” — once the West Coast is tallied, Obama PWNED McCain. But then he begs the West Coast to vote anyway. John King is smug and I find it endlessly amusing.
9:43 p.m.: CNN is checking in with Dana Bash in Phoenix. Hank Williams Jr. is still playing onstage, distracting the 2,400 McCain supporters from the news that Obama is their master now.
9:45 p.m.: People are leaving the viewing party … or making a mad dash to the bar — I can’t tell. I’m “tethered” to my computer. That’s a new CNN term I learned. One of their reporters was “tethered” to her set, meaning she couldn’t leave the set to come talk to us. I point out that if the reporter was a young child and the producer was her parent, child services would shut this place down super-quick.
9:50 p.m.: Amber alert: When I asked Amber how she was feeling, she cleverly just said, “Yes.”
9:57 p.m.: One of our old MTV News producers who now works for CNN wandered over to our table! And we’re talking about the band Morningwood. It’s like 2006 all over again!
9:59 p.m.: What’s more tedious, talking about Morningwood or hearing CNN pundits talk about Joe the Plumber again?
10:00 p.m.: Rat-a-tat-tat-tat! Obama took Iowa, while McCain scored Kansas and Utah. Aligning himself with Donny and Marie Osmond finally paid off! Good job, McCain! Fun fact: John Norris just politely pointed out that “Donnie Osmond” is spelled with a y and not an ie, and that ie is how you spell Donnie Wahlberg of NKOTB. I don’t know whether I should serenade John with “Puppy Love” or “Hangin’ Tough.”
10:05 p.m.: Yay! I was finally able to figure out how to upload some pics that I took. I grabbed a photo of Amber as well as our Martha Stewart-ready cupcakes. By the time I was able to snap a pic of the cupcakes, however, someone had donated a third, bonus cupcake to the plate. I like our two better.
10:08 p.m.: Spotted: Whitney Port! What is she doing here??
10:08 p.m.: Um, I was wrong, and I have the hand-mark on my face to prove it. Whoever that girl is, she has quite the right hook. (I kid!)
10:09 p.m.: The crowd is thinning out faster than Jude Law’s hair. (Snap!) It occurs to me that there are a lot of CNN producers and employees here. I suppose they need to get some shut-eye before their shifts tomorrow. This concept of “sleeping” is something I wish my bosses at MTV understood.
10:13 p.m.: Amber alert: WonderWaitress tells us that our table is her favorite.
10:19 p.m.: Lou Dobbs just showed up. Good thing I’m a U.S. citizen. But interestingly enough, the kitchen staff just abandoned ship.
10:22 p.m.: Even though McCain just won Texas, Dana Bush is telling us that two senior McCain aides see “no path to victory” given the results so far. I wonder if Hank Williams Jr. is now singing this.
10:25 p.m.: Lou Dobbs is saying “hello” to a big group of middle-aged blondes. Does this mean we might see him on the next season of “The Real Housewives of New York”? I hope so!
10:27 p.m.: John Norris just returned from another rendezvous with Soledad. He tells me that there’s still no mention of MooShu or Dumpling Cantiello on CNN. Lou Dobbs overhears this and asks if MooShu and Dumpling Cantiello “have their papers in order.”
10:29 p.m.: Seriously, Lou Dobbs is the biggest hit here. This guy has taken more pictures in five minutes than Joe Jonas took in all of 2006! Luckily, Lou Dobbs is not wearing girls’ pants or a skinny tie.
10:36 p.m.: Spotted: FABIO!!!
10:37 p.m.: Hehe. OK, not Fabio. But I was this close to throwing a fake bird at his nose.
10:42 p.m.: So now we sit and wait for results on California’s Proposition 8, which every time I hear said aloud, I think of this for a quick second.
10:46 p.m.: Will.I.Am is a hologram and is talking to Anderson Cooper. Either Andy Warhol is back from the dead and is producing CNN’s election coverage tonight or “CNN Brew” is stronger than most beers.