"At its shakiest, it was, like much pandemic-era TV, uncanny, disjointed and unsettlingly weird," says James Poniewozik. "(To its credit, though, there were few of the glitches that have riddled so much bandwidth-dependent live television.) At its most engaging, it dispensed with some relics of televised conventions and found faster-paced and more intimate alternatives. On cable news, there were no pundit panels jawboning all day on location. There was no location, really — most of the convention took place in a Milwaukee of the mind. (Sadly, without virtual fried cheese curds.) There were no floor interviews with delegates for also-ran candidates. No placards. No funny hats. And above all, no cheering, hooting crowds. Instead, the teleconvention kept a few standards (like the Bruce Springsteen–soundtracked montage) and borrowed from a grab bag of other TV formats, from talk show to cable news to reality-TV reunion special. And it was all hosted for the night by the actress Eva Longoria from the floor of a cable-news-like studio, a kind of ersatz DNCNN. “We had hoped to gather in one place,” she said early on. The very reason they couldn’t was linked to a key political theme of the night: the Covid-19 pandemic, and the Trump administration’s handling of it. This meant that, more than usual, the medium was the message. The program’s very existence was a kind of political argument: If this doesn’t look normal, it’s because none of this is normal right now. President Trump, the presentation said visually, had broken normality; the Democrats, with an assortment of appeals both to Republicans and to their own party’s left, promised to restore it. Some viewers on social media said the show looked like a telethon, and it often did, from the stories of hardship to the heart-tugging sea-to-shining-sea musical numbers. (These included Leon Bridges on a rooftop and Maggie Rogers on a Maine shore.) But why do you hold a telethon? For disasters and diseases. For emergencies."
Night 1 of the Democratic National Convention was chaotic with mixed messages: "Until the evening’s closing minutes, with complimentary speeches by Bernie Sanders and Michelle Obama, the broadcast hopped from person to person and theme to theme, not giving the time or space to any speaker to allow their thoughts to blossom into anything more than a sort of unfortunate randomness," says Daniel D'Addario. "This is not to discount the travails of the citizens brought into the proceedings by emcee Eva Longoria Bastón. But it is, a bit, to discount whomever among the party brass had the bright idea to give the proceedings a celebrity host with the unfortunate task of keeping this train barreling through a new stop every three minutes, creating the appearance of a celebrity talking significantly more, and perhaps talking over, the people whose challenges she’s meant to be hearing out. (Subsequent nights will see Tracee Ellis Ross, Kerry Washington, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus attempt to surmount this role; Longoria could not.) These bits, early in the show’s two-hour run, rubbed up against video pieces that seemed to make hazy, unfocused arguments about the fundamental goodness and kindness of Americans — ones whose fundamental optimism raised the question of why the Democrats are trying to install a new president at all, given how sunny things seem in the America they depicted — as well as music performances, including by Maggie Rogers on the coast of Maine, introduced by that state’s Senate candidate."
The virtual convention was a winner on Night 1: "The months of preparation resulted in a tight two hours of primetime television," says Ella Nilson. It wasn’t without awkward moments: a stilted Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning, cuts to audiences clapping in tiny Zoom boxes after speeches wrapped up, and Bruce Springsteen wearily intoning the words “rise up” in between video montages. But all in all, Democrats hammered home the message they wanted to come out of the convention...Under trying circumstances, Democratic officials may have made a case for doing away with in-person conventions — or at least shortening them."
Democratic convention went full infomercial: "After decades of the same parade of speeches in cavernous arenas to distracted, disinterested and often inebriated delegates, the first night of the 2020 Democratic convention finally gave up the strained connection to the drama-filled conventions of old — and went full infomercial," says Steven Shepard. "Actress Eva Longoria served as master of virtual ceremonies from a TV studio in Los Angeles, giving the event the feel of a charity telethon. The approach enabled party operatives to draw in the voices of regular folks in place of the usual procession of rank-and-file party officials that often populate the first night of a typical convention."
How Stephen Stills ended up virtually performing “Stop, Hey, What’s That Sound?” with Billy Porter: “Billy and I were first talking about this on the day that George Floyd died — he was throwing furniture around in his apartment, he was so angry," says Stills of their pre-recorded performance, adding: “Billy did such a great cover of the song and I was (originally) going to sing with him on this one for the DNC. But then I decided ‘Nah, it’s Billy’s record, so let him fly with it. And also, my wifi is unreliable...so I played guitar and sang along.”