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After Hurricane Sandy, Is NBC’s Democracy Plaza Too Much?

People still don’t have electricity on the East Coast. Shouldn’t NBC be turning off some of its lights?

Francine Daveta / NBC via Getty Images

Eight days after Hurricane Sandy devastated the East Coast, some people are still suffering without heat or electricity. So why is NBC using so many lights?

Once again on Election Day, NBC has turned 30 Rockefeller Plaza into a red-and-blue bulb extravaganza called Democracy Plaza. You can’t miss it if you’ve watched the Peacock Network, or some of its other platforms, like MSNBC, today.

A map of the nation is etched over the 30 Rock rink, which will be filled in (with the appropriate red or blue) by ice-skaters throughout the night as the network reports on which presidential candidate—President Barack Obama or Gov. Mitt Romney—takes each state. A large banner promoting the number 270 (the magic Electoral College figure) hangs at the top of the 30 Rock building; red and blue panels will rise gradually as states are called. A video on the NBC site shows construction crews, and a crane, working around the clock to build the extravagant set. Apparently, it took three people over the weekend to carve the state of Texas onto the ice skating rink.Since 2004, NBC has relied on Democracy Plaza as a way of distinguishing its election-night coverage on all of its different platforms. Anchors such as Brian Williams, David Gregory, Tamron Hall, or Andrea Mitchell all will be broadcasting from there at some point.

“We don’t just have the broadcast channel, we have the cable channel, we don’t do two hours of the Today Show, we do four, and when you come to Democracy Plaza, we are not just doing election coverage, we are doing all of this,” said the network’s news president Steve Capus in an interview with TVNewser this week. “I think it is a great focal point for the culmination of two years of politicking that has brought us to this point.”

That makes sense, but only up to a point. In past years, Democracy Plaza might have been popular with viewers and advertisers. But after so much devastation on the East Coast this year, tonight’s election night feels different too. There are still thousands of families displaced from their homes, struggling to keep warm and find food. At the same time, isn’t it tone deaf to have Rockefeller Plaza lit up like it’s the Fourth of July?