More than one hundred prominent actors, writers and producers are protesting NBC News’s decision to carry a town hall meeting with President Trump on Thursday night opposite a previously scheduled Joe Biden town hall on rival ABC News.
In a letter to NBCUniversal Chief Executive Jeff Shell, NBCUniversal News Group Chairman Cesar Conde and Brian Roberts, chief executive of NBCU parent Comcast Corp., CMCSA -1.06% the group said the decision to give Mr. Trump such a platform after his refusal to debate Mr. Biden is “enabling the President’s bad behavior while undercutting the Presidential Debate Commission and doing a disservice to the American public.”
The dueling town halls came about after the Commission on Presidential Debates canceled the previously scheduled Oct. 15 debate between Messrs. Trump and Biden after the president’s positive test for the coronavirus. The Commission wanted to hold the debate virtually but Mr. Trump’s camp rejected that format.
The letter doesn’t criticize NBC for putting the president on its airwaves, but rather that the network is allowing Mr. Trump to “counterprogram” his rival.
“We are simply asking that NBC air the President’s town hall either before or after Vice President Biden’s so that American voters can have the opportunity to watch both,” the letter said.
Among the signers of the letter are many prominent current and former NBCUniversal stars and producers including “This Is Us” creator Dan Fogelman and cast members Sterling K. Brown, Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia, as well as “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” Executive Producer Neal Baer.
Other well-known members of the creative community that signed the letter include producer Ryan Murphy and actor-producer Ben Stiller as well as “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane who recently signed a large production deal with NBCUniversal.
An NBC News spokesman said it programmed 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.
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.
The decision of NBC News to carry Mr. Trump’s town hall has caused some turmoil inside the company as well. Some producers and on-air talent at the company’s MSNBC news network were upset that its sister news unit for its decision, people inside the cable channel said. MSNBC, which is known for its left-leaning prime time commentators including Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell, will carry a simulcast of NBC’s coverage of Mr. Trump’s Town Hall.
An NBC News spokesman declined to comment on any tensions with MSNBC.
NBC will also carry the event on its CNBC financial-news channel and its Spanish-language network Telemundo, as it did with its Biden town hall.
After Mr. Trump rejected holding the Oct. 15 debate virtually, ABC News, a unit of Walt Disney Co. DIS -0.92% , then landed Mr. Biden for a town-hall style meeting to be held in Philadelphia at 8 p.m. NBC News subsequently negotiated its Trump event for the same time.
Both events are employing safety measures to avoid any spread of the coronavirus. Mr. Trump and his interviewer Savannah Guthrie of NBC’s “Today” show will be 12 feet apart. The audience will be small and has been tested and will be masked. A similar approach is being taken by ABC News for its event.