Television executives have been battling Democratic National Convention organizers over poor vantage points from their lavish skyboxes, at one point threatening legal action to halt the convention, party officials admit.
Compounding those problems are architectural goofs that resulted in building skyboxes so large that they've obliterated the view of the convention for 194 magazine reporters and VIP columnists like Carl Rowan, James J. Kilpatrick and William Buckley, who had been assigned to what were planned to be choice seats with panoramic views."All you can see is the back of the skyboxes and the ceiling," said Bob Petersen, superintendent of the Senate Press Gallery, who is handling seat assignments for the convention.
Petersen said that other seats now are directly in the path of the hot air exhaust from the giant air conditioners needed to cool the skyboxes. Still other seats have their views obscured by television's microwave relay receivers.
"It's too late to change it now. The skyboxes are built," Petersen said.
"The last week to 10 days, we've had a host of minor problems," said DNC press secretary Mike McCurry, who questions why the television networks and scores of other stations are paying so much to build opulent anchor boxes in the Omni basketball arena when only two hours of the activities each night will be televised.
McCurry said the party has been handing out special favors and rearranging floor seating to accommodate television personalities and head off threats of court action.
Most of the backstage flaps have involved complaints by network executives that their views aren't what they expected.
Some networks have paid as much as $32,000 for their exclusive views - $140 a square foot to the DNC - with additional sums spent on high-tech furnishings, even in the midst of declining press interest in the conventions.
The DNC says it now expects to issue fewer than 12,500 credentials to reporters, editors and technicians, down from the original estimate of 15,000. DNC housing officials report some organizations are apparently cutting back on convention coverage and returning hotel rooms they once reserved.
Cat fights have also broken out among television organizations over equipment being installed on top of the skyboxes. Mid-King Television was forced this week to dismantle a 2-by-4-foot microwave receiver on top of its skybox after the DNC received complaints the tower interfered with the camera angles of others. Mid-King needs the receiver to pick up the signals of television camera crews roaming the floors.
Group W news director Terry O'Reilly complains the view from his skybox is blocked by cameras NBC has installed on top of its anchor booth. "We are disappointed. It's not as we expected from the drawings," O'Reilly said.
He denied reports that Group W had threatened to seek an injunction to stop the convention so the courts could resolve the dispute. But he said the DNC has permitted Group W to station more microwave transmitting cameras on the floor.
"We're not going to tell the story from the skybooth anyway," said O'Reilly.
"The threats of legal action are 10 days old, and I think we've solved those problems," said McCurry, who is spending most of his time trying to put out the brushfires of discontent.
Even McCurry says he wonders whether there's much left in the convention that's worth fighting about now that Michael Dukakis has chosen Lloyd Bentsen as his running mate.
"If I were a major news executive, the question I would ask after all of the trouble, all of the expense and all of the months of planning, is, `Is this worth that cost?' " McCurry said. "I think after it's over, the bean-counters are going to ask, `For this story, we've paid that?' "
Television executives disagree. O'Reilly said there's still "a great story down there on what Jesse Jackson is going to do. Wouldn't it be spectacular if Jackson gets up to make his speech and drops in behind the ticket and announces he's going to call out the vote? That would be a great story. It would make him a huge powerhouse in the Democratic Party."