NBC News Group svp for specials Rashida Jones explained to The AP‘s David Bauder how NBC News executives determined the moderators who will be playing the role of referee for the first Democratic primary debate of the 2020 election cycle, airing tonight and tomorrow on NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo.
Jones told him that the personalities–Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie, Chuck Todd, Jose Diaz-Balart and Rachel Maddow–represent “our starting lineup” and have considerable experience on live television and in working together.
In addition to airing on the three linear networks, the debate will also air across a wide variety of NBC News Group digital platforms.
NBC hopes to approach the 24 million viewer total who watched Fox News for the first Republican primary debate of the 2016 election cycle (Aug. 2015), though that may be tough sledding considering a certain celebrity businessman will not be around to attract the casual news consumer.
The network will need to fend off criticism of how they’ve handled previous debates and forums. Former Today co-anchor Matt Lauer was widely knocked for how he conducted back-to-back live interviews of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton at a 2016 presidential election forum on the USS Intrepid, both for not pressing Trump about inconsistencies on his Iraq War positions and for the amount of attention paid to Clinton’s email controversy.
Then, there was the CNBC debate, which didn’t go very well for the business news network.
Trump bulldozed past co-moderator Rebecca Quick when she couldn’t quickly cite the source of a statement that he denied saying (the quote came from a Trump policy paper).
NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, however, has been praised for how he handled the 2016 debate.
Point being, NBC doesn’t want to be the story over these two nights. Whether that’s the case remains to be seen.
“I like doing something the way it’s never been done before,” said Jones. “I’ll take a two-night unpredictable event over doing it the way we’ve always done it.”