Come on, man. There’s a defense of NBC News’ decision to run their town-hall forum with Donald Trump in direct opposition to ABC News’ previously announced town-hall forum with Joe Biden. It seems clear that Trump wouldn’t accept any other schedule slot except the counter-programming maneuver that NBC News has facilitated tonight, and that Trump would have gone elsewhere to get it — likely Fox, but perhaps CNN too. They wanted the event on Trump’s terms — so why not just embrace it?
This weak-sauce, passive-voice response ain’t cutting it:
In a statement Mr. Conde said, “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.” He noted that NBC scheduled Mr. Trump at 8 p.m. because it had given the same slot to Mr. Biden in a previous town hall and it wanted to keep all things equal between the two candidates. Also, starting at 9 p.m. would still have conflicted with the ABC broadcast, which lasts for 90 minutes while NBC’s is an hourlong event, he added.
“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,” Mr. Conde said.
New York Times TV critic skewered Conde for this explanation, and rightly so:
The procedure has been policy at NBC since the days of Fred Silverman, who credited the machine with his run of success at ABC in the mid-1970s. "Tell it to the claw!" he told perplexed associates as he implemented the game's command that he produce and schedule "Supertrain."
— James Poniewozik (@poniewozik) October 15, 2020
Amazingly, this wasn’t even the worst part of NBC’s defense. The Wall Street Journal’s sources tried passing some of the blame off to ABC for not demanding a schedule change from Biden:
NBC News tried to persuade ABC News to move its event to later in the evening, but the request was rebuffed, two people familiar with the matter said.
That’s even more pathetic. They were so afraid to say “no” to Trump that they tried to get ABC to tell Biden “no” instead. Whoever got that call at ABC must still be banging his/her forehead into the desk.
Or was it on Trump’s terms? The Daily Beast reported yesterday that Conde’s the one who decided on the date and time, not Trump:
A network source insisted that NBC’s news division, led by Cesar Conde, chairman of the NBCUniversal News Group, “determined the format, duration and time slot” of the town hall. The source added that “it follows the exact same format, duration and time slot Joe Biden had on NBC primetime just one week ago.”
“The president did not dictate the time slot,” the NBC source added. “That was determined by the network along with the format, audience and moderator. When ABC announced a two-hour time slot for Biden, it really tied our hands in what we could do programming-wise.”
That’s … difficult to believe, actually. Conde clearly could have foreseen the blowback that NBC would get for counter-programming in this manner, and opted to give Trump a slot last night or on Friday night instead. This looks like spin to make Conde look firm, when it’s much more likely that he rolled under Trump’s demand. Just ask this: would Trump prefer to go on separately from Biden, or to step on Biden’s time? You didn’t need to see their first debate to know the answer to that question.
Anyway, everyone can vote tonight for their favorite candidate … or maybe just the most promising candidate for entertainment value. Some folks are already casting those ballots in the form of a call to boycott NBC over this decision. When that call comes from one of the stars of one of the network’s most storied and popular series of all times, you know you have a public-relations headache on your hands. It’s real, and it’s spectacular, Cesar.
— Julia Louis-Dreyfus (@OfficialJLD) October 15, 2020