AILSA CHANG, HOST:
When President Trump pulled out of a second presidential debate scheduled for tomorrow night over demands he participate virtually, ABC quickly stepped in to fill the void. ABC announced it would hold a town hall with the president's opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, tomorrow night. That is when the debate was scheduled to occur. Today NBC announced it would stage its own town hall with Trump on the same date tomorrow and starting at precisely the same time, 8 p.m. Eastern. The duel of the network town halls is on. And NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us to help make sense of it all.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.
CHANG: So why would NBC News make a decision like this in the first place? Like, how are they explaining it right now?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, they point to the obvious. They say, look; there was a huge hole in the president's schedule. There's huge interest in what the president has to say. After all, there's an election coming up in not so many days. And they say they've solved the - they think or at least addressed the question of the health concerns. After all, the debate was blown up when the president contracted COVID-19 and refused the debate commission's - essentially, its insistence that he participate virtually. He said, no dice. Biden quickly went in with ABC, as you mentioned. Well, here's Trump coming back. And he says, why? This is a perfect evening for us to do it. NBC says, this is when we could make it happen - complicated for the stars to align to get him on the air.
CHANG: But NBC is getting some blowback for its decision, right?
FOLKENFLIK: Yeah. I mean, what you're essentially doing is, you know, what should be offering the public an opportunity to see the other candidate - that is Vice President Biden's on ABC. Let's find a time for President Trump to do it. You're making people choose. And, you know, symbolically, what Trump did in the first debate was steamroll Biden. He essentially talked over him almost incessantly all the time. In a metaphoric way, that's exactly what's happening here. Trump, again, is trying to talk over Joe Biden, this time on a different network. In fact, there are sources on the campaign talking to The Daily Beast, who, The Daily Beast reports, are saying that the president wants exactly this. He looks at NBC. He looks at a network that has sister networks that it can also run on. Consider CNBC, MSNBC, other ways of getting it. And he says, you know, if I take all those together, I'm going to beat Biden's ratings, and I'm going to smush (ph) his face into it, which is, you know, essentially, a ratings-driven outlook, which reflects Trump's time on TV. Not coincidentally, the successes he had on TV were initially with "The Apprentice" on ABC - excuse me - on NBC itself.
CHANG: Right. Well, then where does this leave all of us, like, the viewers, the voters? Like, what are we supposed to tune into tomorrow night?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, it's a funny footnote of history. If I'm not mistaken, NBC and ABC were at one point called the red and blue networks. And people - viewers who want to think about looking at the presidential candidates tomorrow evening will have to choose red and NBC and President Trump or blue and ABC and former Vice President Joe Biden if they want to watch it live. Now, you can watch it on various streaming offerings from NBC. But think about it. NBC News is the prestige element of NBC, and the presidential coverage is supposed to be the prestige element of NBC News. And here, instead of what should be a public service, what had been a debate and is now supposed to be these two town halls, they're making you make programming choices, counterprogramming against one of their top rivals - a commercial choice in some ways, even if they don't profit from it; a branding one rather than the public service we might expect.
CHANG: That is NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik.
Thank you, David.
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