It's election night, and CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer is in New York talking to an Obama campaign strategist in Chicago.
But instead of the split screen or window TV viewers might typically see during live remote interviews, the Obama spokesperson will be projected as a three-dimensional hologram, making it appear as if he or she is in the Manhattan studio with Blitzer. The network plans to conduct similar holographic interviews with representatives from the McCain campaign in Phoenix.
''Everyone is doing something virtual this election year,'' says CNN Senior Vice President David Bohrman, the guy who pushed the technology. But Bohrman believes CNN is going where no network has gone before by employing Hollywood-style effects. ''Virtual elements in a real set look so much better than a real person in a virtual set,'' he says.
Shooting someone who isn't there
There are plenty of reasons for the gimmicks: This year's race has been intensely followed, and is expected to draw tens of millions of voters -- and viewers -- on Nov. 4 tonight. Significantly more people are expected to watch tonight's results than in 2004, when about 64 million viewed election-night results on network and cable TV, according to Nielsen.
USA TODAY got an exclusive peek at the holographic technology, which CNN hopes to unveil prior to the election on ''The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.'' CNN is still fine-tuning the technology.
''It's so complicated,'' Bohrman says. ''The crew is basically shooting someone that isn't there.''
CNN will have 44 cameras and 20 computers in each remote location to capture 360-degree imaging data of the person being interviewed. Images are processed and projected by computers and cameras in New York.
There will also be plasma TVs in Chicago and Phoenix that will let the people being interviewed see Blitzer and other CNN correspondents. Bohrman says the network can project two different views from each city so Blitzer can appear to be in the studio with two holograms.
Bohrman won't disclose the cost, but says ''we're on our budget for election night.''
The movie studios have used similar technology as far back as ''Star Wars,'' says Bohrman, who has dreamed about the prospects for a decade. But until recently, the networks have lacked the computing horsepower.
Borhman flew to Israel the day after the vice presidential debate to enlist the help of two tech companies -- Vizrt, which works on state-of-the-art virtual studios; and SportVu, a developer of a real-time camera tracking system used in live sporting events.
What others are doing » Fox News has built three new HD studios for tonight's broadcast so it can make better use of the additional TV real estate with updated county results, comparative numbers from previous elections and poll-closing times. A giant wall with touch-screen technology will provide electoral map results.
» ABC's digital maps make their debut, letting correspondents look at up-to-the-minute votes by county, and compare votes as far back as 1960. Also, a double ticker line at the bottom of TV screens will display current popular and electoral totals for Obama and McCain.
» NBC spent the past year designing two studios that make the most of visual technology. One features intricate exit-polling information that digitally appears on a wall. The other studio lets political director Chuck Todd analyze presidential results by region, state and county. And it has partnered with MySpace on Decision08, an online section that includes video, news feeds and blogs from NBC News.
» CBS News will analyze national and state exit-poll data, using state-of-the-art technology to display vote-counting and demographic data. Touch-screen technology will allow anchor Katie Couric to drill down on state and county results for all races. .
» Comedy Central, the TV home of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, is teaming with Meebo to host chat rooms for users to share their political views.