CNN Through The Lens

The network news organization is in town to broadcast two debates, beginning with the U.S. Senate race Sunday.


By Rebecca Sitten and Samira Obeid

Special to


TAMPA, Fla. (Oct. 22, 2010) - The CNN bus was the first of the media to arrive on the University of South Florida Tampa campus to set up for the final U.S. Senate and Florida gubernatorial debates, which will be held Sunday morning and Monday night.


Parked outside Theater I, the CNN Express, painted in the patriotic colors of red, white and blue, rolled in from Washington along with a technical and set-up crew.


A fully equipped mobile station unit, the bus resembles a luxury hotel and is complete with an editing suite. Sporting an impressive tech console, this magnificent piece of machinery has seated the likes of Barack Obama, John McCain and Hillary Clinton.


Early this morning, CNN’s T.J. Holmes hosted a live piece outside the theater while the crew unloaded loads of equipment.  Anne Brown, CNN’s Special Events Producer, is organizing the setup of the stage for the upcoming debates. Field engineers, set designers and lighting experts were on the scene to make sure all the equipment is arranged and working properly. So far, Brown says, CNN is extremely pleased with all of the theater’s advanced technical facilities.


Brown shows up when big, live sets need to be built. For the debates, paint, carpeting, lighting effects, and five cameras will be used. One element that won’t be used is a control room. Brown said CNN will be sending all audio and video of the debate to D.C. so it can be directed from there.


Outsourcing the direction of a debate can be risky, Brown said. If something goes wrong, whether in Tampa or in D.C., it is harder to troubleshoot without a local control room.


Today is “loading day,” Brown said. Basically, everything needs to get off the truck and into place. By Saturday, the set will be in good shape for a dress rehearsal and candidate walk-through. Candidates will either comment on or criticize the set design, down to specifying chair height, Brown said.