Isolation booths: Easy way to improve presidential debates

By putting Presidential debate opponents in isolation booths like those in 1950s game shows such as "Twenty-One," moderators wouldn't be able to interrupt or favor either contestant.

"Twenty-One" host Jack Barry (center) with contestants Vivienne Nearing and Charles Van Doren. (Via Wikipedia entry on "Twenty-One." This 1957 photo was taken by a staff photographer at New York World-Telegram & Sun and is now part of a collection donated to the Library of Congress and now in the public domain.)

CHARLOTTE, N.C., October 9, 2016 – In the aftermath of the vice presidential interruption-fest, a colleague made a great suggestion the following morning at breakfast about how to conduct future debates.

His solution was not only simple and practical, but it would also answer other questions that always emerge after the events are over.

Way back in the 1950s there were two extremely popular television game shows that were, in many ways, the forerunners of reality television. Both “The $64,000 Question” and “Twenty-One” offered outlandish cash prizes to the winners. Ridiculous sums, at least in relation to the times.

Eventually, a congressional investigation revealed that some of the programs were rigged and that some contestants were in on the scam.

But the innovation that both game shows brought to television was something called “the isolation booth.” Contestants were placed into padded booths wearing headphones that played music in their ears while supposedly keeping them from hearing the challenger’s answers.

At the same time, a contestant could not communicate in any way with anyone involved in the program.

“Why don’t we just put the candidates into isolation booths like they did in the ‘50s?” asked my friend. “The debater could hear what the other candidate is saying, but he would not be able to respond until his microphone is turned on.”

Furthermore, by conducting a debate in that manner, the host(s) would not have to play referee by interrupting the interruptions in order to maintain control of the proceedings.

As we discussed the idea, we added a few other wrinkles to the process which, we felt, would add new elements to the discussions that we are unable to determine under the current formats.

One of the great innovations the NFL has incorporated into its telecasts is placing a yellow-yard marker on the screen so viewers can immediately determine whether a player gains ten yards for a first down. It also highlights an official’s measurements when he brings out the chains by showing his accuracy (or lack thereof) in placing the ball.

Employing a similar concept, when a moderator asks a candidate a question and gives him or her two minutes to respond, a running clock on each isolation booth would show how much “extra” time they take to give their answer. It would not mean the emcee could not call “time” when the allotment is up, but it would demonstrate who takes the most advantage of the rules and the format.

It would also bring into clear focus which candidates are prepared and welcome the challenges of speaking about the issues or which candidates merely come to the event to wallow in the mud.

As a sidebar, such a format would focus like a laser upon candidates who will actually answer the questions that are posed as well as those who spin away from the topic in an effort to avoid talking about it.

Here again, it would be little more than giving the host(s) control of the debate with three or four simple buttons.

Of course, the opposition would likely come from the networks themselves. Confrontation is a hallmark of contemporary television. The more there is, the better they like it. In fact, they even have a term for it. They call it “good TV.”

While using the isolation booths would mean the debates themselves would likely cover more of the issues in depth, the freaky little challenges from one contender while his opponent speaks would all but be eliminated.

It would not be much different than taking the good old fashioned rhubarb between a manager and an umpire out of a baseball game because of replay reviews.

Another aspect of the proposed format that might put the journalists on the spot would be the elimination of their biases. Without the candidate’s ability to rant and rave wildly, “moderators” would be placed under a larger microscope based upon how questions are asked, which questions are asked and how they themselves interact with the individual candidates.

That, too, is pressure the networks would likely steer clear from.

Granted, adding isolation booths to the debates might water down the drama considerably. But for once, voters would get to actually hear the candidates discuss the issues and be able to observe more clearly how the opponent responds.

Given the two choices the American people have come November, maybe, just maybe, it would be a good thing for once to hear real issues discussed so we can decide who to vote for based upon relevant information instead of biased reporting and/or character assassination.

Contact Bob at Google+

Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.

Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (

Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

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