It's show time for Bret Baier.

The host of Fox News Channel's "Special Report" is set to lead the network's coverage of the upcoming Republican and Democratic national conventions, working closely with colleague Megyn Kelly, among others.

The RNC kicks off Monday; the DNC gets under way Sept. 4.

Based on Nielsen ratings, a lot of you will be watching. Austin ranks No. 4 in the nation for Fox News Channel viewership. Baier's show, nationally, is a dominant No. 1 in its 5 p.m. time slot, drawing more viewers than CNN and MSNBC combined.

"I look at the conventions as the kickoff to this general election race," he told me this week. "That's when people around the country really start to pay attention.

"Our basic goal is to present the conventions in a way that makes people on the couch really care about what's happening."

As you might expect, Baier's working long hours these days, but he says that's A-OK.

"I tell people it's like drinking from a fire hose," he said. "It's non-stop, but I love what I do."

The election will dominate the network's programming for the next several months, Baier said, with debates planned, along with a cross-country trip that will take his show to several parts of the country that are expected to be crucial battlegrounds for President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney.

"These are places we think will make a really big difference," Baier said.

Earlier this year, Texas Gov. Rick Perry – not Romney – was the presumptive GOP candidate in the minds of many. His frontrunner status didn't last long though.

Perry's "a good person and a great campaigner," Baier said, and "could have been the one" had it not been for several high-profile stumbles.

"It wasn't a great run by all accounts for Gov. Perry," Baier said. "Those early debates really did him in. If the candidate we saw on the day he gave his exit speech was the guy we saw on Day 1, he would have had a real chance."

But that's all in the past now. Looking ahead to next week, the host says he plans to focus on "substantive issues," serving viewers who are "hungry for the real stuff."

"We're really trying to cover the race fairly," he said, "and I think we're doing that."

Where to watch LHN

While most Central Texans lack access to the Longhorn Network, there are a few spots around town where you can get your University of Texas sports fix.

Grande Communications is the only local cable provider offering the year-old network, and it serves just bits and pieces of the Austin area. The bars and restaurants below are all Grande customers and, according to LHN, regularly show the network's programming.

LHN's lineup this fall will include two exclusive UT football games.

Abel's on the Lake, 3825 Lake Austin Blvd.

Boomerang's, 3110 Guadalupe St.

Double Dave's, 3000 Duval St.

El Chile, 1809 Manor Road

EZ's, 3918 N. Lamar Blvd.

Jalapeno Joes, 3211 Red River St.

Jax, 2828 Rio Grande St.

Nomad Bar, 1211 Corona Drive

Pluckers, 105 N. Interstate 35, San Marcos

Posse East, 2900 Duval St.

TailGatorz, 2828 Rio Grande St.

Tavern, 922 W. 12th St.

The Ranch, 710-A W. Sixth St.

Trudy's, 409 W. 30th St.

Waterloo Ice House, 1106 W. 38th St.

Channel surfing ...

Time Warner Cable rolled out an upgraded on-screen navigation guide this week. Customers should notice a new look and several additional features. ... A last-minute deal kept Austin CBS affiliate KEYE-TV on the Dish Network lineup. The two were engaged in a heated battle over retransmission fees. Cable and satellite providers are typically required to compensate stations in order to broadcast their signals. ... Speaking of KEYE-TV, the station has a new news director. Greg Turchetta arrives from Fox-owned WOFL-TV in Orlando, Fla. ... Read my blog at austin360.com/tvblog or follow @gdinges on Twitter to get the latest updates on local radio and TV stations.

Contact Gary Dinges at gdinges@statesman.com or 912-5987