Nobody knows exactly what's going to happen when Joe Biden and Paul Ryan square off on Thursday night for the only vice presidential debate of the 2012 campaign. But a few things seem certain.
There will be nine cameras filming the debate. Moderator Martha Raddatz will set up nine ten-minute segments, divided roughly evenly between foreign and domestic policy. She'll be watched intensely for how similarly, or differently, she performs her duties in comparison to Jim Lehrer, who was taken to the woodshed in many places for how he did the job. Will she interrupt? Will she be aggressive? Will she ask pointed questions or broad ones? What issues will she raise?
The candidates will be watched for how they react to her. If they're smart, they'll think about the dreaded network split-screens that track their every gesture, even when they're not talking. (They might tell their supporters to watch PBS, which has vowed to focus on only one candidate at a time.)
Due to the complex contract worked out between the campaigns, Raddatz will have to call Paul Ryan "Mr. Ryan" instead of "Congressman Ryan." Biden will still get to be called "Vice President."
The debate will be aired on over twelve television networks. It will be live-tweeted, live-blogged, live-chatted and live-streamed on countless websites. It will have some challenges in the ratings; some people, like, Matt Lauer, are watching the MLB playoffs (the Yankees-Orioles and A's-Tigers series are down to the wire). Others might be listening to Barbra Streisand's concert in Brooklyn.
Thousands of journalists will be crowding the spin rooms and media centers at Centre College, which is hosting the debate. Fact-checkers will sharpen their quills.
If the numbers track with the first presidential debate, 11 percent of viewers will watch things unfold while also having a second screen -- a tablet, a laptop, something -- in front of them. 15 percent will follow the action online in some form.
And, when the debate is done, the never-ending punditry cycle will, of course, continue.