The pushback against NBC's decision to air a town hall with President Donald Trump Thursday evening at the same time ABC is scheduled to air a town hall with Democratic nominee Joe Biden is continuing to grow. Just a day after the network confirmed the event, which is to be hosted by Today's Savannah Guthrie, more than 100 Hollywood actors, directors, producers, and showrunners sent a petition to NBCUniversal and Comcast executives voicing their opposition.
In a letter, which was published by Variety and signed by Ava DuVernay, J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, Aaron Sorkin, several This Is Us cast members, and numerous others and addressed to Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, NBCUniversal chairman Jeff Shell, and NBCUniversal News Group chairman Cesar Conde, the Hollywood A-listers wrote they were "devastated" by NBC's decision. The signees said that while they have "always thought of NBCUniversal as both a terrific creative home and a brand that stands for the best in entertainment and broadcast journalism," this is "not a partisan issue," but rather, "this is about the political health of our democracy."
Much of the controversy lies in the fact that Trump, who had tested positive for the coronavirus, had objected to moving forward with the second presidential debate in a virtual format, which would have ensured the health and safety of both presidential candidates as well as the moderator. As a result, the Commission on Presidential Debates opted to cancel the debate, shortly after which time ABC confirmed it would be holding a town hall with Biden to be moderated by ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos beginning at 8 p.m. Thursday evening. NBC, meanwhile, announced its town hall with Trump, to also begin at 8 p.m. ET, Wednesday, immediately sparking controversy.
In the letter, the signees went on to state that "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." It added that the signees "believe this kind of indifference to the norms and rules of our democracy are what have brought our country to this perilous state" and called for NBC to run the town hall either prior to or after Biden's "so that American voters can have the opportunity to watch both."
In a statement addressing the outcry, Conde said that NBC will move forward with the town hall as scheduled, noting that "our decision is motivated only by fairness, not business considerations." Pointing out that the network held a town hall with Biden on Oct. 5 during that same 8 p.m. timeslot, Conde said, "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." Conde concluded his remarks by noting that the town hall "will be available at any time, free and on-demand on YouTube, Peacock and all our digital news platforms."