Television news network MSNBC wanted to put Penn on national television by filming a live focus group from campus during its election coverage tonight. But when it was asked to pay $22,000 to use the Zellerbach Theatre in the Annenberg Center, the network had to change its plans. The focus group will instead be filmed at the Inn at Penn on Walnut Street for around 30 percent of the cost. Though it's still at a Penn-owned facility, the Inn at Penn can't accommodate a mostly student audience that the network was hoping to use as part of its Election Night programming. MSNBC political analyst and high-profile Republican pollster Frank Luntz said the network usually pays up to $1,500 for broadcast space. Luntz -- who will moderate tonight's focus group -- said he was upset with Penn's high price tag for such high-profile exposure. "I am disappointed," said Luntz, a Penn alumnus and former American Civilization professor who frequently clashed with his colleagues in the School of Arts and Sciences. "It's inconceivable that this would have happened. It's really sad that Penn forgoes opportunities like this." MSNBC approached the Annenberg Center last week about holding the focus group of approximately 30 voters who were undecided until right before the election as to who to vote for. The forum will focus on what topics or issues helped these Pennsylvanians make up their minds. If the network had been able to shoot at the Annenberg Center, students would have been able to come in to watch the live focus group. However, students won't be able attend the shooting at the Inn at Penn because of space constraints. Annenberg Center Director of Operations Mike Durker said that the $22,000 would go toward covering stage hands, rental line items and administrative costs. The Annenberg Center is separate from the Annenberg School for Communication, and a potential partnership for the event was never discussed with the University administration. "We've waived a lot of the charges that we normally would pass on as well," Durker said, adding that the Annenberg Center's not-for-profit status yielded the high price. "NBC is not not-for-profit," he continued. "I don't think they are hurting for the money." Still, MSNBC said it was disappointed with the outcome. "I think it's a real shame that students can't come," NBC national producer Tom Bernthal said. "This is a perspective on the electoral process that very few people have the opportunity to witness firsthand." A Penn student who tried to help bring the MSNBC program to Penn said the $22,000 pricetag was "ridiculous." "It would have given immediate coverage to Penn and Penn students," said the student, who asked to remain anonymous. Both the student and Luntz said they were frustrated with Penn's bureaucracy. "The fact that [NBC] should have to struggle to schedule this is embarrassing to the University," Luntz said. "I'm very disappointed. This is typical Penn red-tape bureaucracy." Penn spokeswoman Phyllis Holtzman declined to comment. Bernthal said that the Inn at Penn would probably charge the network about $8,000 -- still higher than the station typically pays for such venues. But he said that since the network only approached the hotel 25 hours before the program was scheduled to go on air, the price was justified. The Inn at Penn will provide the network with risers, chairs, lighting and power, as well as the space in the facility's Woodlands Ballroom.Comments powered by Disqus
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