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Donald Trump’s SCOTUS Announcement to Take Over Primetime

Variety logo Variety 1/31/2017 Daniel Holloway
© Provided by Variety

Donald Trump will be back in primetime tonight.

The Big Four broadcasters will interrupt regularly scheduled programming Tuesday with specials from their news divisions covering President Donald Trump’s announcement of his pick to fill the open seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. The announcement, set for 8 p.m., will be the first live-news event of the Trump administration to prompt broadcasters to break into primetime programming.

In scheduling the announcement for 8 p.m., Trump is diverging from the approach of his predecessors, who introduced Supreme Court nominees in daytime press events. And in a move reminiscent of Trump’s experience as host of NBC reality show “The Apprentice,” CNN reported Tuesday that the top two candidates for the Supreme Court seat — Neil Gorsuch and Thomas Hardiman — have traveled to Washington, D.C. ahead of the announcement.

ABC, CBS, and NBC will air live special broadcasts at 8 p.m. ET anchored by George Stephanopoulos, Scott Pelley, and Lester Holt, respectively. Fox will switch over to coverage from cable-news operation Fox News.

Citing unnamed sources, CNN reported Tuesday morning that the White House had gone to extraordinary efforts to build suspense for Tuesday evening’s announcement. Such a focus would be in keeping with President Trump’s recent track record of treating television coverage of his administration as event programming. Last week, White House press secretary Sean Spicer incorrectly told reporters that Trump’s inauguration was the most watched ever (a claim he attempted to support with flawed ratings analysis), and Trump himself last Tuesday took the time to tweet congratulations to Fox News for beating CNN in inauguration-coverage ratings.

Barack Obama’s first primetime news event as president, a press conference in which he spoke on jobs and the state of the U.S. economy, averaged 49.5 million total viewers across eight networks, according to Nielsen.

Of the Big Four broadcasters, only NBC, with reality show “The Wall,” is scheduled to air new entertainment programming in the 8 p.m. time period. CBS, which shifted its schedule Monday night in anticipation of the announcement, will air a rerun of “NCIS.” ABC will air a rerun of “The Middle,” and Fox will air a rerun of “New Girl.”

Liz Meriwether, creator and executive producer of “New Girl,” tweeted jokingly Monday night, “I’m going to go ahead and take it personally that Trump plans to announce his Supreme Court nominee right when ‘New Girl’ starts.”

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