Tom Brokaw and Chris Matthews remember remarkable moments in convention history. The MSNBC special airs Sunday, July 25, 8 p.m. ET
updated 8/23/2004 2:26:03 PM ET 2004-08-23T18:26:03

Every four years, the Democrats and Republicans meet to shine a spotlight on their best and brightest. At the political conventions, would-be leaders pump up and excite their base of devotees and try to turn sympathetic observers into active supporters.

In “Picking our Presidents:The Greatest Moments,” we’ll look at the pivotal events from America’s political conventions and how they affected us. NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw is a journalist who has for four decades guided us through four decades of the personal and political stories, the commotion and occasionally the chaos of the national conventions. He will help us look back with some perspective at some of these great moments.

Brokaw describes his own experience covering the conventions as "the best job I ever had.”

“I really grew up wanting to be a floor correspondent at a national convention, having been raised in the days of Huntley and Brinkley," he says, "and watching all those conventions unfold on television. When I got there, it fulfilled all my expectations.”

The conventions are stages for great performances and commanding speeches by sometimes charismatic leaders. They also represent an opportunity for the two political parties to deliver their calls-to-action. These conventions do more than pick our presidents; they also chart the course for America’s future, set the agenda, and define what the parties stand for and are willing to fight for.

Anchoring coverage of a huge live event like a political convention could be a tricky business. It’s like being an air traffic controller at an extremely congested airport. And it takes more than a little finesse.

There was a time when the people who ran political conventions went to great lengths to hide the big decisions being made at conventions. Now, they go to equal lengths to pretend that those big decisions are being made right before your eyes even though the primaries and caucuses have long since made clear who will be each party's nominee.

But the conventions continue to deliver suspense. Will the candidate deliver a barn-burner or a clinker? Will the action out on the streets upstage the action up on the stage? Will it create a candidacy that’s hard to beat, or just add more reasons for its defeat? Is this democracy in action I’m watching, or primetime PR?

"Picking our Presidents: The Greatest Moments" airs Sunday, August 29, 8 p.m. ET on MSNBC.


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