Donald Trump will return to NBC tonight, getting another starring role from the network that made him a reality TV star with The Apprentice and arguably set him on his eventual path to the presidency. And a lot of people—including some of the network’s biggest names, past and present—are pretty unhappy about it.
NBC announced yesterday that will hold a Trump town hall in Miami tonight, starting at 8 p.m., the exact same time that a previously scheduled Joe Biden town hall in Philadelphia is airing on ABC. Both town halls are being held to replace a presidential debate that was supposed to take place tonight, but that Trump refused to attend when the Commission on Presidential Debates moved it to a virtual debate, citing concerns about the president’s recent diagnosis for coronavirus.
Almost immediately after that debate was cancelled, the Biden campaign agreed to appear on a town hall on ABC that would air on the same night of the previously scheduled debate. Almost week went by before the Trump camp announced it had arranged its own town hall on NBC, to be aired on the same day and time.
On MSNBC last night, in the midst of an interview with Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, Rachel Maddow made clear her feelings about her employer’s decision. “Are you as mad as everybody else is that NBC is doing a town hall with President Trump tomorrow instead of the debate, at the same time that Vice President Biden’s going to be on ABC?” she asked Harris. In response, Harris, Joe Biden’s running mate, burst into laughter and said, diplomatically, “I’m not touching that.”
Maddow then took another tack, asking Harris: “Should the networks refuse to give the president other opportunities for airtime if he’s the one who refuses the chance to debate?” Harris, still laughing, said “I’m not going to tell the networks what to do, but I can tell you that I know who I’ll be watching, so there you go.”
>> @Maddow: "Are you as mad as everybody else is that NBC is doing a town hall with President Trump tomorrow instead of the debate at the same time that VP Biden's going to be on ABC?" Kamala Harris: "I'm not touching that!" pic.twitter.com/Dtjw2ER2gk
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) October 15, 2020
Not laughing about NBC’s decision were some of the network’s most famous alumni, as well as many notable media observers:
Having dueling town halls is bad for democracy-voters should be able to watch both and I don’t think many will. This will be good for Trump because people like to watch his unpredictability. This is a bad decision. #vote
— Katie Couric (@katiecouric) October 14, 2020
THIS is UNCONSCIONABLE. #Trump pulled out of the scheduled townhall. #Biden KEPT HIS COMMITMENT & HIS WORD and moved forward. Now @nbc @nbcnews is going to REWARD 45 for breaking his commitment and be an accomplice to his attempt to screw over Biden?! #BoycottNBC #BoycottMSNBC https://t.co/8v4AGGUZ4G
— Debra Messing✍🏻 (@DebraMessing) October 15, 2020
The decision by NBC News to run a Trump town hall directly opposite ABC's Biden town hall is indefensible.
— Jeff Greenfield (@greenfield64) October 14, 2020
#BoycottNBC is the top trending topic and they earned it. NBC could've scheduled its town hall with Trump LITERALLY any other date/time as the town hall previously scheduled with Biden for Thursday on ABC. But they choose the same time. Then again NBC gave us The Apprentice https://t.co/GICwLniWNW
— (((DeanObeidallah))) (@DeanObeidallah) October 14, 2020
Although it seemed as if NBC might reconsider the timing of its town hall, especially as #boycottNBC became a trending topic on Twitter, the network stuck to its decision, and instead just issued this statement: “The Trump campaign did not dictate or request the time slot nor express any preference.”
The Trump town hall, to be hosted by Today anchor Savannah Guthrie, will be held outdoors at the Pérez Art Museum, “in accordance with guidelines set forth by health officials and consistent with all government regulations,” according to NBC.
The network said it had received a statement from Dr. Clifford Lane, clinical director at the National Institutes of Health, indicating that he and Dr. Anthony Fauci had reviewed Trump’s recent medical data, including a molecular PCR test collected and analyzed by the NIH on Tuesday, and concluded “with a high degree of confidence” that the president was “not shedding infectious virus.”
Both Guthrie and the president will be at least 12 feet apart from each other. The audience will also be socially distanced and required to wear masks, answer a symptoms questionnaire and take a temperature check before entering the venue.
The Biden town hall, to be moderated by ABC’s chief news anchor, George Stephanopoulos, will be held National Constitution Center in Philadelphia and will last 90 minutes. According to ABC, approximately two dozen voters from across Pennsylvania, of varying political views, will be on hand to ask the former vice president their questions, with Stephanopoulos occasionally following up. As with the audience in Miami, attendees will be masked and socially distanced.
Besides being broadcast on ABC affiliates around the country, the Biden town will be streamed on ABC News Live, as well as the ABC News website.
The Trump town hall, which will last one hour—30 minutes less than the Biden event—will air on NBC, CNBC and MSNBC. It can be streamed on NBC News NOW, and is available to watch on demand after the broadcast on Peacock, the NBCUniversal streaming service. The event will also be available in Spanish on the digital sites of Telemundo, the Spanish-language television network.