NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell Believes Trump Town Hall Is 'Fair' (Exclusive)

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NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell Believes Trump Town Hall Is ‘Fair’ (Exclusive)

But many in the company’s newsrooms, including Savannah Guthrie, are “pissed,” insider tells TheWrap

NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell thinks it is “fair” to forge ahead with Donald Trump’s town hall this evening, a highly placed NBCUniversal insider told TheWrap. This, despite mounting public calls for NBC to move the event away from Joe Biden’s own town hall in the same 8 p.m. ET time slot on ABC.

The decision to program Trump’s town hall against Biden’s was made by Chairman of the NBCUniversal News Group Cesar Conde, the insider said. Shell was aware of the chairman of the NBCUniversal News Group’s call. Shell supported it then and he supports it now.

“We share in the frustration that our event will initially air alongside the first half of ABC’s broadcast with Vice President Biden,” Conde said Thursday in a statement. “Our decision is motivated only by fairness, not business considerations. We aired a town hall with Vice President Biden on October 5 at 8pm. If we were to move our town hall with President Trump to a later time slot we would be violating our commitment to offer both campaigns access to the same audience and the same forum. We hope voters will watch both discussions – ours will be available at any time, free and on-demand on YouTube, Peacock and all our digital news platforms.”

The C-suite-level sentiment isn’t shared by many in the NBCUniversal bullpens. Staff in the newsrooms are “so pissed,” a former NBCU executive told TheWrap. Several NBC affiliates share that anger, despite the fact that they stand to gain from the TV ratings Trump will bring in tonight, the executive said.

#BlackoutNBC  and #BoycottNBC tag trended Wednesday and Thursday on Twitter and a long list of prominent producers and actors – including stars of NBC’s “This Is Us” and the “SVU” shows – demanded that the network move the debate. Observers complained that NBC — which made Trump famous with “The Apprentice” years ago — was being unfair. A voter can’t, after all, watch two channels at once.

An individual with knowledge of the negotiations said that CBS was also competing for the Trump town hall, and that to secure the deal NBC threw in its additional networks MSNBC, CNBC and Telemundo. This virtually guarantees that the Trump town hall’s aggregate ratings will be higher than Biden on ABC.

A spokesperson for NBC News said that the network did not discuss moving the time slot with the Trump campaign, after they learned that the Biden town hall on ABC was scheduled to air at the same time and attributed the roaring backlash to “peoples’  understandable frustration with the president.”

Nonetheless, the network has a massive public relations debacle on its hand, with pressure from inside and outside the network disputing the judgement of its decision. “It’s got to be country before network,” said one angry former top executive. “This isn’t some soap opera ratings stunt.”

Savannah Guthrie, who is set to moderate the Trump town hall, is also upset with NBC’s decision to move forward. Guthrie plans to “suck it up and do her job,” the former NBCUniversal executive said.

NBC News defended its decision on the timing, saying the network is following the same exact plan — including the format, duration and time slot — it did for Biden one week ago.

Sharon Waxman