The great, and not-so-great, debaters

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It’s the climax of practically every election movie: the big debate scene, in which an underdog trailing in the polls scores major points against his stuffy opponent through oratory. Who can forget Robert Redford as liberal neophyte Bill McKay going off script about poverty and race while battling rival Crocker Jarmon in “The Candidate”? Or Warren Beatty in “Bulworth,” playing a rap-happy senator bringing class warfare to the debate process by summing it up as “pretty rich guys here, getting paid by some really rich guys to ask a couple of other rich guys questions about their campaigns.”

Of course, no movie is as exciting as the real deal. And when the 2008 presidential candidates hold their first face-off next Friday night, it might break the all-time record set by the Jimmy Carter-Ronald Reagan debate, which drew more than 80 million viewers back in 1980. If you’ve wanted to check out that chic new restaurant in town, go on Sept. 26 — eateries, multiplexes and bars will likely be as desolate as the Painted Desert, with folks staying home to watch John McCain and Barack Obama duke it out in their initial mano a mano contest.

Cracking 80 million viewers, however, will rely heavily on real-time streaming of the event on the Internet.

“The debates will be watched more widely on the Web than ever before,” predicted Alan Schroeder, a former Boston television producer and current associate professor at Northeastern University. He’s the author of “Presidential Debates: 50 Years of High-Risk TV.”

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