CLEVELAND-- Hours before the first Republican presidential debate Thursday, final preparations were under way inside Quicken Loans Arena, which has been transformed.
The stage was set, with final checks taking place Wednesday afternoon. Podiums were in place, with candidate positions based on poll rankings. Frontrunner Donald Trump will be next to former Florida Governor Jeb Bush at center stage, with Ohio Governor John Kasich on the far right for the prime-time debate. It will be the culmination of 6 months of planning by debate sponsor Fox News.
"As far as debates go, this is the largest venue and the largest one we've ever done," Fox News Channel Senior Production Manager James Doetsch said.
He said more than 200 Fox News employees are in Cleveland for the debate, along with dozens of local workers hired to prepare the arena. Crews performed sound checks Wednesday, with stand-ins taking the place of candidates on-stage. They also fine-tuned cameras and the placement of 600 lights for marathon coverage surrounding the debate.
"We build it all in 4 days. We do over 12 hours of programming and we'll break it all down and be out of here sometime mid-afternoon after the debates," Doetsch said.
The prime-time debate will include the top 10 ranking candidates based on polling and announced by Fox News Tuesday and will begin just before 9 p.m., lasting two hours. The remaining seven candidates will participate in a 5 p.m. debate on the same stage.
"I've been involved in a lot of debates," said Fox News Senior Director of Politics Cherie Grzech, who is overseeing the debate. "I've never seen anything that has blown this away in the sense of interest."
She said moderators Chris Wallace, Megyn Kelly and Bret Baier have been meeting to craft tough questions. There will also be questions submitted by Facebook users across America.
"We're changing those questions all the way up until the time those moderators come up on stage and ask them," Grzech said.
Candidates will have one minute to respond to questions addressed to them, with 30 seconds for rebuttal. Fox News will track and try to balance candidates' total speaking time, according to Grzech.
"You don't really know what's going to happen in the debate until the debate happens," she said.
During and after the debate, press from across the country will file reports from a "spin room" separated from the stage by a black curtain. A Facebook lounge includes an interactive touch screen displaying demographics related to hot-button issues.
From the candidates, to the moderators, to the experts, FOX 8 News will be the only Cleveland TV station broadcasting LIVE inside Quicken Loans Arena.
It all starts with FOX 8 News in the Morning LIVE from the Q and continues all day, including a special 11 p.m. edition of FOX 8 News after the debate, with all-day coverage here on FOX8.com.