Broadcast Nets Limit Live Coverage of Day 1 Impeachment Trial

Only about a third of the way into the marathon first day of the Senate trial on whether to remove President Trump from office, the most of the broadcast networks and their affiliates returned to regular broadcast programming for late afternoon and prime time, relying on streaming and cable coverage to carry the load.

The first day was admittedly confined to debate about the trial rules, with a series of Democratic amendments to those rules being debated and voted down by Republicans. But during the amendment process the Dems pretty much laid out their case for impeachment.

The proceedings started at 1 p.m. (Jan. 21) and extended to almost 2 a.m. Tuesday, but by late afternoon Monday local Washington stations were airing their newscasts, then the network news, then syndicated access shows like Wheel, Jeopardy and ET. Then it was regular prime time entertainment fare.

NBC covered the proceedings from 12:30 until 5 p.m., when the Senate took a break, then continued to offer coverage to affiliates until about 7:40. The coverage was live all day on streaming service NBC News NOW.

ABC's network coverage was from about 12:30 to a little after 5, while streaming service ABC News Live (ABCNL) carried it all.

A source familiar with the network's plans says coverage will start on ABC and ABCNL at 1 p.m. ET, and will continue on the network until about 6 p.m., with ABCNL continuing to cover it all.

Fox offered live coverage to its affiliates anchored by Bill Hemmer, though some, like WTTG Washington opted for regular programming on the broadcast net while airing impeachment coverage on their web sites.

CBS was not available for comment at press time about its live coverage, but a source monitoring the nets said it ended about 3 p.m. CBS' streaming service, CBSN, not only covered the impeachment, but several clips of its past news on the issue were featured as evidence by impeachment managers.

Cable news outlets generally went gavel-to-gavel, with some breaks for split-screen commentary or analysis. They captured lots of name calling, a lengthy argument about whether to subpoena witness John Bolton, and an admonition from Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial, for a tad more civility given the venue.

For example, at one point Democratic impeachment manager Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) repeatedly called the Republican defense team liars, which is unusual language for the "cooling saucer" of the Senate, though this is a trial featuring lawyers and House members as well as senators, not normal proceedings where senatorial courtesy generally reigns.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.