The ABC debate stage was a little less crowded Saturday night as ’08 presidential hopefuls skipped the event but not necessarily by choice. Democrats Joe Biden and Chris Dodd opted for an early exit after performing poorly in Iowa but gatekeepers at the network, owned by the Walt Disney Co., uninvited Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel based on poor polling numbers — a relatively commonplace practice. Though challenged by Kucinich, the plea will likely fall on deaf ears with the FCC. And this is what we call democracy in action: a system of overzealously regulated presidential debates which are completely a product of the candidates, who negotiate all terms with the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), enabling the two-party system to control content and stifle third-party momentum. Types of questions, time of questioning, rebuttal process, audience demographics — even the arrangement of tables and podiums are agreed upon by the participants. Open Debates, a nonprofit group, has challenged CPD format but the general public remains unaware of the fact that U.S. presidential debates are as rehearsed as Broadway’s Mamma Mia!