J.J. Abrams, Ava DuVernay, Mariska Hargitay Among 100 Top Hollywood Players Protesting NBC's Trump Town Hall

J.J. Abrams, Ava Duvernay and Mariska Hargitay
Bill Watters/WireImage; Adam Burrell; Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

J.J. Abrams, Ava DuVernay and Mariska Hargitay

More than 100 top showrunners, producers and stars have sent a petition to Comcast and NBCUniversal executives protesting the timing of tonight's town hall with President Donald Trump, which is set to air across the company's platforms opposite ABC's town hall with Democratic nominee Joe Biden. The list of heavyweights who signed the letter of protest includes J.J. Abrams; Law & Order: SVU star Mariska Hargitay, This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman and Ava DuVernay.

The petition — sent to Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, NBCUniversal chairman Jeff Shell and NBCUniversal News Group chairman Cesar Conde — told the execs, "you are enabling the president's bad behavior while undercutting the Presidential Debate Commission and doing a disservice to the American public." They continued: "This is not a partisan issue. This is about the political health of our democracy." The group includes such current top NBC talent as Chris Meloni and This Is Us star Sterling K. Brown as well as heavyweights Aaron Sorkin, Greg Berlanti, Ryan Murphy and Seth MacFarlane.

The hourlong Trump event is scheduled to air tonight on NBC, MSNBC and CNBC at 8 p.m. Eastern, a direct conflict with the first hour of Biden's 90-minute town hall on Disney-owned ABC. Biden's ABC town hall will originate from Philadelphia, while Trump will be in Miami, where the two candidates were originally scheduled to appear together in person for a town hall that was to be carried on C-SPAN. (Biden's NBC town hall was in Miami last week.)

That plan changed after Trump contracted the novel coronavirus and the Commission on Presidential Debates decided to make the event virtual. Trump declined to participate and hours later, Biden set his town hall on ABC, with George Stephanopoulos moderating. NBC leadership then offered Trump a town hall, ultimately insisting on two conditions: Trump had to provide evidence that he would not present a safety risk to others who would be present and he had to allow the network to select the moderator. He agreed and the network set Today co-anchor Savannah Guthrie to moderate.

NBC also provided a statement from Dr. H. Clifford Lane, a clinical director of the National Institutes of Health, in which he said that he and Dr. Anthony Fauci had reviewed Trump's medical data and concluded "with a high degree of confidence" that the president was "not shedding infectious virus." The information that Lane and Fauci assessed was provided by White House Dr. Sean Conley. NBC had said it would not rely solely on Conley's assurances regarding Trump's condition. Trump has been dismissive of COVID-19 safety protocols and his family and associates declined to wear masks at his Sept. 29 debate with Biden.

Even before the petition was drafted, numerous current and former NBCUniversal staff members had expressed anger and disdain for the network's decision to schedule Trump's event at the same time as ABC's event with Biden. "I don't think many of us are proud of this moment," one current NBC exec told THR. Former NBC News exec Vivian Schiller tweeted: "The point of a news organization is to serve the public. This is the opposite. @NBCNews could literally run this any other day, or any other time. Shameful." Former NBC anchor Katie Couric also tweeted: "This is a bad decision."

NBC has a long history with Trump, with many critics arguing that a carefully curated image of him as a savvy billionaire on The Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice helped boost his profile and prepare voters to believe he was a capable businessman. As THR reported this week, in 2011, then-NBCUni CEO Steve Burke persuaded Trump not to run in the 2012 campaign, making a $500,000 donation to the Trump Foundation. (The foundation was dissolved last year after the New York attorney general alleged "a shocking pattern of illegality.")

Here's the full letter:

To Brian Roberts, Jeff Shell and Cesar Conde:  

We are a group of writers, actors, directors and producers. Many of us have been lucky enough to work for NBCUniversal at some point in our careers. Some of us are currently employed at your studio. We have always thought of NBCUniversal as both a terrific creative home and a brand that stands for the best in entertainment and broadcast journalism.  

This is why we have been devastated to learn that you have chosen to air President Trump’s town hall this Thursday night at 8 p.m., directly opposite Vice President Biden’s town hall.  

This is not a partisan issue. This is about the political health of our democracy.  

President Trump refused to participate in the virtual debate scheduled for Thursday night by the Presidential Debate Commission. 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.  

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.  

We understand the necessities of business, especially in this difficult time. But we believe there are larger issues of civic responsibility at stake here.  

Signed...

  1. Aaron Sorkin
  2. Adam McKay
  3. Adam Scott
  4. Alex Barnow
  5. Allison Tolman
  6. Amy Lippman
  7. Amy Schumer
  8. Aubrey Plaza
  9. Ava DuVernay
  10. Ayelet Waldman
  11. Ben Stiller
  12. Billy Eichner
  13. Billy Porter
  14. Brendan Gall
  15. Chelsea Handler
  16. Chris Bishop
  17. Chris Meloni
  18. Chris Miller
  19. Chris Sullivan
  20. Chrissy Metz
  21. Courtney Kemp
  22. Dahvi Waller
  23. Damon Lindelof
  24. Dan Fogelman
  25. Daniel Hageman
  26. David A. Goodman
  27. David Guggenheim
  28. Debra Messing
  29. Ely Henry
  30. Emily Gordon
  31. Eric Guggeheim
  32. Greg Berlanti
  33. JJ Abrams
  34. Jason Moore
  35. Jennifer Yale
  36. Jill Knox
  37. Jim Parriott
  38. Joe Mantello
  39. Jon Cryer
  40. Jon Hamm
  41. Jon Huertas
  42. Josh Gad
  43. Josh Singer
  44. Julianne Moore
  45. Julie Plec
  46. Justin Hartley
  47. Keith Powell
  48. Kenya Barris
  49. Kevin Hageman
  50. Kumail Nanjiani
  51. Laeta Kalogridis
  52. Latoya Morgan
  53. Mandy Moore
  54. Marc Guggenheim
  55. Mariska Hargitay
  56. Marti Noxon
  57. Martin Gero
  58. Matthew Lopez
  59. Max Mutchnick
  60. Michael Chabon
  61. Michael Green
  62. Michele Fazekas
  63. Milo Ventimiglia
  64. Neal Baer
  65. Nicholas Stoller
  66. Nicole Yorkin
  67. Otmara Marrero
  68. Parvesh Cheena
  69. Patton Oswalt
  70. Phil Lord
  71. Preacher Lawson
  72. Robert Kirkman
  73. Ryan Murphy
  74. Samuel Baum
  75. Sarah Schechter
  76. Sarah Silverman
  77. Sarah Treem
  78. Seth Grahame-Smith
  79. Seth Rogen
  80. Shakina Nayfack
  81. Sophia Bush
  82. Sterling K. Brown
  83. Sunil Nayir
  84. Susan Kelechi Watson
  85. Tara Butters
  86. Terry Matalas
  87. Thor Freudenthal
  88. Tom McCarthy
  89. Tony Kushner
  90. Travis Beacham
  91. Vanessa Taylor
  92. Zoe Lister-Jones
  93. Ken Olin
  94. Abbi Jacobson
  95. Alison Janney
  96. David Kohan
  97. Robert King
  98. Malcolm Spellman
  99. Seth MacFarlane
  100. Marjorie David
  101. Donald Faison
  102. Chris Misiano
  103. David Goyer
  104. Julie Martin
  105. Joss Whedon
  106. Warren Leight
  107. Alec Baldwin
  108. Richard Schiff
  109. Joshua Malina
  110. Mary McCormack
  111. Dan Levy
  112. Dulé Hill
  113. Megan Boone