On one channel, the president of the United States. On another, the man running to replace him.
After the Commission on Presidential Debates decided to formally cancel the second presidential debate of the general election cycle, which was scheduled for Thursday night, it’s starting to look like there could be an epic face-off between the two candidates via two separate broadcast news channels.
Last Thursday, ABC announced plans for a debate-replacing Thursday night town hall with former vice president Joe Biden, hosted by George Stephanopoulos and held in Philadelphia, just like the network’s Sept. 15 town hall with the president. The event will start at 8 p.m. ET and run for 90 minutes, according to additional details announced Monday – setting up a potential showdown with NBC, which is “in the works” on a similar town hall event with President Donald Trump, according to a source familiar with the network’s plans.
NBC had hoped to stagger the television events so that viewers would not have to choose between them, but that seems unlikely now that ABC has scheduled the Biden event to run across two programming hours.
NBC held a town hall on Oct. 5 with Biden in Miami that started at 8 p.m., and the network would likely prefer to start a similar event with Trump at the same time for the sake of consistency.
To be sure, NBC has not yet confirmed that it will hold an event with Trump. “NBC has specific medical requirements that need to be met in order for the event to go forward,” the source familiar with the network’s plans said. (The president has not yet announced a negative test for covid-19.)
In the event that the Trump town hall happens, “Today” show co-anchor Savannah Guthrie would be the moderator, as was first reported by CNN. (Evening news anchor Lester Holt moderated the Biden town hall.)
Were the town halls to go up against each other, the networks would be competing for viewer eyeballs, even though neither event is likely to generate anywhere close to the massive audience – more than 73 million people – who watched the first general election debate on Sept. 29.
ABC’s town hall with Trump drew an average of 3.8 million total viewers, while NBC’s town hall wth Biden last week drew 6.7 million viewers, when factoring in the audience on MSNBC as well as financial news channel CNBC. A Trump town hall on Thursday would likely air on all three networks, once again.
Representatives of the Trump campaign and the Trump administration could not be reached for comment on plans for a Thursday night town hall.
The CPD formally canceled the second debate last Friday, a day after announcing that it would be held virtually, for health reasons. The Trump campaign objected to debating virtually.