NBC And Trump: Inside The Network’s High-Profile Balancing Act

With President Trump both an antagonist and an undeniable ratings boon, NBC is in the political spotlight.

NBC And Trump: Inside The Network’s High-Profile Balancing Act
Ratings high: Melissa McCarthy’s impression of White House press secretary Sean Spicer (seen here touting Ivanka Trump’s clothing line) has helped boost Saturday Night Live’s viewership. Photo: Will Heath/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Few companies sit more squarely in the center of the country’s political maelstrom than NBCUniversal, which has been both on the receiving end of Trump’s Twitter attacks and a gleeful chronicler of his presidential follies. Here’s how the network is charting a way through.

Artful Antagonism

With his instantly iconic impersonation on Saturday Night Live, Alec Baldwin has become the president’s look-alike bête noire. Trump has responded with Twitter tirades about the show, but SNL is barreling onward with ratings at a six-year high. The president has also bashed NBC News on Twitter, calling the network “biased, inaccurate, and bad.” Things should get even more heated as former Fox News host Megyn Kelly launches her morning show on the network. Being on the president’s bad side can be good business. Kelly is arguably the hottest name in media right now. And as one TV executive puts it, “When you’re looking at the kind of ratings they’re getting for SNL, they’re not about to say, ‘We better be careful.’”

Mass-Market Appeal

While hot-button shows like SNL are drawing the attention of the tweeting class, the mainstays of NBC’s prime-time programming—where the real money is—are geared squarely toward Red State audiences. These include family-friendly shows like The Voice, Chicago Fire, Celebrity Apprentice (for which Trump is, somewhat awkwardly, still an executive producer), and the breakout melodrama This Is Us, which is now the highest-rated show on network TV.

Back-Channel Influence

Comcast is a cable company and broadband provider with its own political agenda. Last October, Trump said that NBCUniversal’s mega-merger with Comcast six years earlier never should have been approved. But the company may yet find an ally in the president. In 2015, Comcast spent $15 million on lobbying—more than any other tech company except Alphabet—to fight issues such as the FCC’s net neutrality rules. On that point, at least, the administration seems to be supportive.

About the author

Nicole LaPorte is an LA-based writer for Fast Company who writes about where technology and entertainment intersect. She previously was a columnist for The New York Times and a staff writer for Newsweek/The Daily Beast and Variety.

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