Has the “no boring bits” approach to election night coverage from Seven and Nine killed off the idea of the central tally room in Canberra for future federal elections?

Earlier this year the Australian Electoral Commission made a big push to cut costs by closing the tally room and forcing the networks back to their studios. It is thought the two commercial networks, Seven and Nine, were sympathetic to the idea but the ABC resisted, as did some politicians who believed the idea of a central tally room, where the public could be a part of the process, was important for democracy.

So the tally room stayed and Seven blindsided Nine by promising to take the “boring bits” out of its coverage and forced its rival to abandon its traditional route of serious analysis for a more showbiz approach, which included former Chaser, Charles Firth, and a horrible idea called The Shredder. Co-host Laurie Oakes looked and sounded uncomfortable with the whole idea.

On the night, alcohol was being sold inside the tally room and the large crowd quickly entered into the spirit of things and started cheering as the voting figures were posted on the tally boards.

From around 8.30pm that noise from the tally room floor started to become noticeable to the TV audience and all three networks had hosts struggling to make themselves heard. The ABC’s Kerry O’Brien finally snapped and took an on-air swipe at the commercial networks.

Maybe it was this cheeky person who pretended to pick Kerry’s ear that proved to be the final straw (click on image to watch):

From anecdotal evidence, it seems the main offender was Firth, who was on the floor trying to whip up Mexican waves (like at the cricket).

It was an less than edifying period for all concerned and the TV audience certainly punished Nine, relegating it to fourth on the night across the country behind the ABC, Seven and Ten’s oft-repeated Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back.

Seven returned to Federal election coverage for the first time in 20 years to assert its authority in News and Current Affairs and got an OK result by beating Nine.

The ABC, despite long problems with graphics on screen and figures, proved, as Nine had done in the past, that the public does want the boring bits: interviews, seat-by-seat figures, people rabbiting on about swings and the on air jousting between ALP and Coalition representatives.

So will we have the tally room in 2010? People in attendance on Saturday night said AEC officials were asking people where they had come from and how long they had been there, with the suggestion that the information was being collected for future use.

If we lose it, we will all be poorer.