TUESDAY Election-day coverage

(ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, some cable channels, most local stations. Starting time: varied - 7 p.m. Eastern or earlier in many cases. Check local listings.):

The formats include the familiar mix of displayed tallies, projected winners, and enough analysis to rewrite history. PBS has especially ambitious coverage scheduled this year: a three-hour "Finish Line" format live from Boston's WGBH starting at 8 p.m., co-anchored by Hodding Carter and Ken Walker, and featuring an impressive panel of commentators like Daniel Shorr and Doris Kearns Goodwin. The show will be interrupted at six minutes before each hour with four-minute news breaks on election returns and projections.

During live coverage on the commercial networks, many individual stations will break in with updates on state and local results. But the networks say they will observe the now-standard policy of not declaring an electoral winner in any state until its polls are closed. The reason is to avoid influencing voters - or discouraging them from voting by proclaiming that it's all over, thereby making their ballot seem moot. A fine policy, but it's undermined by other plans: When a network's computers project th at a presidential candidate has the 270 electoral votes needed to go over the top nationally, that network will publicly pronounce him the winner - even if polls (those in an earlier time zone, for instance, like the West Coast) have not yet closed.

Fox, meanwhile, will be airing ... comedy (no obvious remarks, please), with breaks each half hour for election updates.

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