NBC was battered with criticism on Wednesday after it announced plans for a Thursday town hall event with President Donald Trump to air opposite an already-scheduled ABC forum with his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden.
Top Democrats, media pundits, and many journalists inside NBC and MSNBC were taken aback by the network's choice of the 7 p.m. CDT time slot, which will make it impossible for Americans to watch both candidates live.
Trump and Biden were originally scheduled to face off on Thursday in Miami at a formal debate — until last week, when Trump abruptly withdrew after the Commission on Presidential Debates decided to stage the event virtually over concerns that Trump could still be contagious with the coronavirus.
Biden quickly arranged his own telecast with ABC, prompting Trump's campaign to seek its own event that evening. After a lengthy negotiation — NBC wanted proof that the president would not pose a health risk, which it received only on Tuesday — the network announced its plans Wednesday morning.
Several people familiar with internal discussions described the network's thinking, requesting anonymity to share private conversations.
Trump's town hall event was patterned after a similar Biden forum that NBC had hosted on Oct. 5, the people said. It will be held at the same outdoor Miami venue, with the same format that features questions from Florida voters — and the same 7 p.m. time slot.
But given the conflict with Biden's event on ABC, why not simply start Trump after the former vice president finishes?
NBC officials argued internally that such a move could be problematic because many more American households watch television later in the evening. In theory, they argued, starting the event at 8 or 9 p.m. CDT would grant Trump access to a larger potential live audience than Biden had for his NBC event on Oct. 5.
So why not hold the event on a different night? NBC executives have insisted that the date was their choice, the people said, and that Thursday fit the president's schedule: Because of the now-canceled second debate, Trump's evening was free.
Still, viewers who want to see what both Biden and Trump have to say will have plenty of options to do so via DVR or livestreams.