On Thursday night, ABC and NBC are set to air competing televised town halls, the former with Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and the latter with Donald Trump. It’s a strange situation, but it’s one that was set into motion by Trump, who had refused to participate in a virtual debate with Biden because it was a “waste of [his] time.” After ABC booked Biden for a Q&A session with voters, NBC arranged for Trump to have the stage to himself at the exact same time, essentially forcing viewers to watch one or the other—and setting Trump up for a big ratings win given that NBC viewership will be bolstered by its two news networks, MSNBC and CNBC.
NBC’s decision to pit the president against his competitor has dozens of big-name actors, producers, and showrunners crying foul. In a letter addressed to Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, NBCUniversal chairman Jeff Shell, and NBCUniversal News Group chairman Cesar Conde, 105 Hollywood players from Jon Hamm to Ava DuVernay (full list below) are calling on the network to reschedule its Trump town hall so “American voters can have the opportunity to watch both.”
The letter reads: “President Trump refused to participate in the virtual debate scheduled for Thursday night by the Presidential Debate Commission. 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.
We believe this kind of indifference to the norms and rules of our democracy are what have brought our country to this perilous state.”
As The Hollywood Reporter detailed yesterday, NBC has a long, cozy relationship with Trump, whom it cast as a supposedly successful businessman on several seasons of The Apprentice. In fact one NBC insider told THR that Trump’s run for president was only supposed to be an opportunity for face time in advance of another season of Celebrity Apprentice. “He said he was announcing a bid in June and [he’d] be out of the race by September and start shooting [Celebrity Apprentice] in January,” the source said. “He never expected to get any traction. He was doing it to boost his own brand.”
Back in June, Vanity Fair reported that NBCUniversal chairman Shell was involved in discussions about CNBC taking a hard right turn and replacing its current primetime programming with conservative talking heads in the Fox News mold. “Obviously they’re seeing the huge reach Fox has, which is still half of the cable-news audience and market,” said Chris Ruddy, a prominent figure in conservative media. “It might be insurance as well if Trump is not elected.”
Newsgroup chairman Conde responded to the letter by expressing the network’s own frustration about the timing and claiming the scheduling was in the name of fairness: “We share in the frustration that our event will initially air alongside the first half of ABC’s broadcast with Vice President Biden. Our decision is motivated only by fairness, not business considerations.”
Here’s the full list of signees:
Aaron Sorkin, Adam McKay, Adam Scott, Alex Barnow, Allison Tolman, Amy Lippman, Amy Schumer, Aubrey Plaza, Ava DuVernay, Ayelet Waldman, Ben Stiller, Billy Eichner, Billy Porter, Brendan Gall, Chelsea Handler, Chris Bishop, Chris Meloni, Chris Miller, Chris Sullivan, Chrissy Metz, Courtney Kemp, Dahvi Waller, Damon Lindelof, Dan Fogelman, Daniel Hageman, David A. Goodman, David Guggenheim, Debra Messing, Ely Henry, Emily Gordon, Eric Guggeheim, Greg Berlanti, JJ Abrams, Jason Moore, Jennifer Yale, Jill Knox, Jim Parriott, Joe Mantello, Jon Cryer, Jon Hamm, Jon Huertas, Josh Gad, Josh Singer, Julianne Moore, Julie Plec, Justin Hartley, Keith Powell, Kenya Barris, Kevin Hageman, Kumail Nanjiani, Laeta Kalogridis, Latoya Morgan, Mandy Moore, Marc Guggenheim, Mariska Hargitay, Marti Noxon, Martin Gero, Matthew Lopez, Max Mutchnick, Michael Chabon, Michael Green, Michele Fazekas, Milo Ventimiglia, Neal Baer, Nicholas Stoller, Nicole Yorkin, Otmara Marrero, Parvesh Cheena, Patton Oswalt, Phil Lord, Preacher Lawson, Robert Kirkman, Ryan Murphy, Samuel Baum, Sarah Schechter, Sarah Silverman, Sarah Treem, Seth Grahame-Smith, Seth Rogen, Shakina Nayfack, Sophia Bush, Sterling K. Brown, Sunil Nayir, Susan Kelechi Watson, Tara Butters, Terry Matalas, Thor Freudenthal, Tom McCarthy, Tony Kushner, Travis Beacham, Vanessa Taylor, Zoe Lister-Jones, Ken Olin, Abbi Jacobson, Alison Janney, David Kohan, Robert King, Malcolm Spellman, Seth MacFarlane, Marjorie David, Donald Faison, Chris Misiano, David Goyer, Julie Martin, Joss Whedon.
Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.