The mess surrounding Donald Trump’s Thursday town hall on NBC just got messier. After the president’s refusal to debate Joe Biden this week, the Peacock announced it would air his town hall at the same time that Biden takes the stage on ABC. The decision has become the subject of widespread controversy, and now more than 100 celebrities—including NBC stars and creators past and present—have issued an open letter calling on the network to at least shift Trump’s time slot.
Among the letter’s signatories are The West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin and Allison Janney; the creator and cast of This Is Us; Will & Grace creators David Kohan and Max Mutchnick and star Debra Messing; Law & Order: Special Victims star and executive producer Mariska Hargitay and former star Chris Meloni, who has his own SVU spin-off series incoming; and Parks & Recreation alums Adam Scott, Aubrey Plaza, and Billy Eichner.
The letter, which can be read in full at Deadline, addresses Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell, and NBCU News Group chairman Cesar Conde, and asks that Trump’s town hall be moved to air either before or after Biden’s so that the American public can watch both.
“This is not a partisan issue,” the letter states. “This is about the political health of our democracy… 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.”
“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 letter says. “…We understand the necessities of business, especially in this difficult time. But we believe there are larger issues of civic responsibility at stake here.”
In addition to the NBC alums who’ve signed the letter are Hollywood A-listers including Adam McKay, Amy Schumer, Ava DuVernay, Ben Stiller, Greg Berlanti, JJ Abrams, Jon Hamm, Joss Whedon, Julianne Moore, Patton Oswalt, Ryan Murphy, Sarah Silverman, Seth MacFarlane, and Seth Rogen.
NBC’s decision to air the town hall appears to have ruffled feathers all around. As The Daily Beast reported Wednesday, staffers are seething, afraid that by giving Trump a chance to compare his broadcast’s ratings to Biden’s, the network is playing into his hands. As one source familiar with the president’s thinking told The Daily Beast, “[Trump] looks at this the same way he looks at attendance at his rallies versus the [turnout] Biden gets for his events… He obviously wants to blow Biden out of the water.”
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow already called the network out on air for the decision Wednesday. Paul Feig, who executive produces the NBC series Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, also vented his displeasure on Twitter.
Another frustrated party? ABC News, which, as one network insider told The Wrap, sees the scheduling move as a ratings ploy by NBC. The Peacock, meanwhile, appears to be standing by its decision. An executive with knowledge of the town hall’s planning process told The Wrap that the network was following the same protocols it had last week with its Biden broadcast. A representative for the network added, “The Trump campaign did not dictate or request the time slot, nor express any preference.”