NBC Showrunners Have Run-In with Net Over Town Hall

(Image credit: NBCU)

NBC continues to get blowback for scheduling Thursday night's (Oct. 15) town hall with President Donald Trump up against ABC's town hall with his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.

The President backed out of a planned Oct. 15 debate after it was changed to virtual due to his COVID-19 diagnosis.

The latest salvo came from NBC showrunners, past and present, and others in the programming community, who wrote an open letter to NBC brass asking the network to move the debate to another time so that viewers could watch both.

"By agreeing to air his town hall as counterprogramming opposite Vice President Biden’s town hall on ABC, you are enabling the President’s bad behavior while undercutting the Presidential Debate Commission and doing a disservice to the American public," they argued, according to a copy of the letter posted on multiple sites.
"We share in the frustration that our event will initially air alongside the first half of ABC’s broadcast with Vice President Biden," said Cesar Conde, chairman of the NBCU News Group. "Our decision is motivated only by fairness, not business considerations. We aired a town hall with Vice President Biden on Oct. 5 at 8 p.m. If we were to move our town hall with President Trump to a later timeslot we would be violating our commitment to offer both campaigns access to the same audience and the same forum. We hope voters will watch both discussions – ours will be available at any time, free and on-demand on YouTube, Peacock and all our digital news platforms."

NBC was under no legal obligation to air a Trump town hall. While broadcasters must provide competing candidates for office equal opportunity to use their airwaves, though only if it has provided airtime to one candidate first, "bona fide news interviews" are exempted.

For his part, the President is dissing his own town hall. According to CNN's Daniel Dale, Trump has said the event is a set-up by NBC and its parent, "CONcast."

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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.