NBC’s Trump town hall feels the heat from ‘devastated’ critics in Hollywood

President Trump speaks at a rally in Florida Oct. 12, 2020
President Trump will participate in a town hall airing Thursday on NBC.
(John Raoux / Associated Press)

CNN’s Don Lemon did not mince words while responding to NBC’s controversial decision to broadcast a town hall with Donald Trump on Thursday after the president refused to participate in a virtual debate with former Vice President Joe Biden.

The anchor joins a growing chorus of critics from Hollywood, who have launched a petition calling for NBC to change its plans.

“[Everyone I know] is outraged about what’s happening tomorrow night,” Lemon told colleague Chris Cuomo on Wednesday on CNN. “Why on earth would NBC agree to do that?”

When Cuomo compared airing Thursday’s Trump town hall on the same night as ABC’s Biden town hall to giving the candidates “equal time” during a debate, Lemon was not swayed. The Biden campaign locked in the ABC event earlier this month after the president, who was recently hospitalized for COVID-19, would not agree to a remote debate.


“You don’t have to do it at the same time and then divide the country further by having them choose,” Lemon continued. “The whole point was to bring them together.”

Still playing devil’s advocate, Cuomo countered that Trump demanded the time slot, giving the network no choice. Both his and Biden’s programs are set to begin at 5 p.m. Pacific, though the former vice president’s will run a half-hour longer.

“So he’s controlling the programming schedule at NBC?” Lemon fired back. “They’re rewarding him with prime time on a major network, on cable and on their Spanish-speaking network — someone who made all the wrong decisions and someone who backed out of the debate.

“How does that help the American people? How does that inform the electorate, by putting those two people on at the same time and making people choose?”

Anticipating Cuomo’s next comment, Lemon quickly added, “Don’t give me that BS about, ‘Well, you can tape one.’ That’s not what it’s about. This is an outright embarrassing ratings ploy on behalf of NBC, and I am shocked and surprised that they would allow the president of the United States to do their programming and manipulate them into doing it.”

Thursday’s town hall events in lieu of a canceled presidential debate will air at the same time, prompting criticism that “this is a bad decision.”

Lemon is far from the only skeptic voicing his concerns about NBC’s widely criticized collaboration with the Trump campaign. On Thursday, more than 100 “devastated” Hollywood heavyweights signed a petition urging Comcast and NBCUniversal to reverse their decision, which they deemed “a disservice to the American public.”

“This is not a partisan issue,” read the letter, obtained by Variety. “This is about the political health of our democracy. ... By agreeing to air [Trump’s] town hall as counterprogramming opposite Vice President Biden’s town hall, you are enabling the President’s bad behavior while undercutting the Presidential Debate Commission.”

Among the signatories were Aaron Sorkin, Amy Schumer, Ava DuVernay, Ben Stiller, Billy Eichner, Billy Porter, Chrissy Metz, J.J. Abrams, Jon Hamm, Josh Gad, Julianne Moore, Justin Hartley, Kenya Barris, Kumail Nanjiani, Mandy Moore, Ryan Murphy, Sarah Silverman, Sterling K. Brown, Susan Kelechi Watson, Allison Janney, Seth MacFarlane and Donald Faison.

“We believe this kind of indifference to the norms and rules of our democracy are what have brought our country to this perilous state,” the note continued. “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.”