"Forced by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic to rely on pre-taped videos, moving montages and socially distanced live speeches, the DNC felt less like a convention and more like a particularly earnest telethon trying to raise awareness of a democracy in crisis," says Caroline Framke. "It was strange, corny, touching, exhausting, and more straightforward than ever." Framke adds that the "convention attempted to balance throwing the Democrats’ greatest hits at its steadfast base and luring in that ever elusive and confusing bloc of undecided voters by featuring Republicans who wouldn’t be caught within six feet of this convention pre-Trump (and pre-COVID). This balance wasn’t always successful, and sometimes downright confusing." Framke says each night felt like a different award show with four different celebrity hosts (Eva Longoria, Tracee Ellis Ross and Kerry Washington and Julia Louis-Dreyfus). And though many of the pre-taped segments were a mixed bag, Framke notes that the marquee speeches benefitted from "a jolt of innovation from the new socially distanced format. Typically given before an enormous, anonymous convention crowd from the same podium, the politicians had to strategize so much more about how they would deliver their remarks, and what might make them more effective." The three nights of speeches paved the way for Joe Biden's remarks at the end of Thursday night. "By the time he formally accepted the nomination for president late Thursday night, the DNC had done enough trial and error to understand that the most powerful way for him to deliver the final word was as directly as possible: at a podium, in the same auditorium as (Kamala) Harris, but with the camera staying close and steady on him throughout his every forceful plea," says Framke. "As he addressed the pandemic and 'the current president’s' inability to handle it, his tone took on a sharper edge and the camera reacted accordingly, closing in to provide a visual urgency to match. After four days of buildup, months of campaigning, and years of anticipating this moment, Biden and his party found a way to exemplify his slow and steady brand at a moment that feels anything but."
With Julia Louis-Dreyfus' awkward jokes, the Democratic National Convention's tonal consistency faltered on Night 4: "Hosted by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the night oscillated awkwardly between the urgent mood of the previous nights and scripted zingers that fell flat in a studio with no live audience," says Dylan Scott. "Early in the evening, the convention aired a highly effective package on the nominee’s religious faith. 'It’s important because it gives me some reason to have hope and purpose,' Biden said before the feed cut back to Louis-Dreyfus. Louis-Dreyfus, rather than let a powerful moment linger, jabbed at Trump. 'Just remember, Joe Biden goes to church so regularly that he doesn’t even need tear gas and a bunch of federalized troops to help him get there,' she said. Nobody laughed, because nobody was there to laugh. And some viewers were not impressed. Meanwhile, a moving tribute to the late Rep. John Lewis was followed by a dry collegiate lecture from historian Jon Meacham. A fun segment with some of the losing Democratic candidates, hosted by a jovial Cory Booker, gave way to a typically stilted, if affably awkward, Mike Bloomberg. Look, none of this probably matters all that much. One could argue that conventions don’t matter at all when it comes to the election results. Nobody is going to remember in November an awkward one-liner from Julia Louis-Dreyfus or Mike Bloomberg’s inexplicable fist pump to conclude his remarks. But judged as a production, the convention’s final night fell short of the high standards the previous nights had set."
This was the first purely TV convention: "Conventions have for decades been TV productions more than politically decisive or newsmaking events. But this was the first one that was purely TV: Stitched together from tapes and location shots, it had no existence in a physical space other than your screen," says James Poniewozik, adding: "It was a lot — policy and personality, kitsch and cheek — but this convention had to reinvent the language of a political ritual that usually relies on thousands of party faithful, in person, as extras. How do you recreate the experience of hordes of roaring faithful when none of them can be there? You can’t. What you can do is find a way to create different but equally powerful emotions without them — as, for instance, Tuesday’s touchingly kooky delegate roll call travelogue did. Incendiary applause lines don’t work the same when no one is there to clap; zingers don’t land without someone to laugh. What does work is gravity and heart. And that, as Mr. Biden demonstrated in the convention’s climax, is something he can do."
It matters that the Democratic National Convention proved incapable of divesting from cliché: "Standard political theater just doesn’t cut it in 2020, as Thursday’s anticlimactic litany of testimonials from insiders, in particular, confirmed," says Judy Berman. "And that’s even before you factor in a sitting President with an uncanny ability to hijack a news cycle by sending a tweet. Let’s not forget that Trump built his political persona on reality TV, a medium that, for more than two decades now, has been training American viewers to value the outsize personalities of exhibitionists over the scripted and focus-grouped optics of polished professionals. He may be no great orator, but his colorful deficiencies can create the impression of candor. A competent, orderly, yet banal convention is no match for an endless supply of rude, bizarre, yet memorable antics. So it matters that the DNC proved incapable of divesting from cliché. Putting Biden’s 'build back better' slogan in the mouths of speaker after speaker mostly served to remind viewers that these telecasts were an exercise in coordinated messaging."
13-year-old Brayden Harrington delivered the best speech of the convention: "You could hear the stutter in Brayden’s lungs, all those heavy inhalations, his search for sounds that wouldn’t come," says John Hendrickson of Harrington's speech. "The 13-year-old stared into a stationary camera and told the world about his problem, the affliction he shares with 3 million Americans, one of whom is now the Democratic nominee for president...He stood up and delivered his speech, and stuttered through it, and said all the words he wanted to say. He told a powerful story in just over two minutes, which is more than some other DNC speakers can claim."