Prime time is sacred territory for US television networks, where they draw their biggest audiences and advertising dollars.
But the broadcast TV channels — with one notable exception — are bumping hit shows such as “Law & Order” on Thursday evening to air a hearing by the congressional committee investigating the January 6, 2021 assault on the US Capitol.
The major networks — ABC, CBS and NBC — along with cable channel CNN will devote up to two hours of prime time to show the committee hearing live.
The Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox News will go with its usual lineup of shows, but will carry the hearing on the lesser-watched Fox Business channel.
The hearing into the January 6 assault on Congress by supporters of former president Donald Trump is set to begin at 8:00 pm Eastern Time — 5:00 pm on the West Coast and 0000 GMT.
The committee has reportedly hired former ABC News president James Goldston to produce the prime-time special aimed at reaching a national audience.
The United States has a history of dramatic televised congressional hearings dating back to 1950s with the “Red Scare” anti-communist crusade of senator Joseph McCarthy.
There were the Watergate hearings in the 1970s, the Iran-Contra hearings in the 1980s, the impeachment of president Bill Clinton in the 1990s and, more recently, the two Senate trials of Trump.
But those televised events were largely held during the day and not in prime time.
“During Watergate, PBS rebroadcast the hearings that occurred in the daytime,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “But there were a lot of offices where people were watching.”
Holding the January 6 hearing in prime time is a “good strategy,” Sabato said.
“The difficulty is going to be attracting people who don’t have a great interest and changing any minds,” he said. “Do they uncover illegalities and potentially criminal activities?”
– ‘People must watch’ –
Representative Liz Cheney, one of the two Republicans on the committee, urged Americans to tune in.
“People must watch, and they must understand how easily our democratic system can unravel if we don’t defend it,” Cheney, the daughter of former Republican vice president Dick Cheney, told CBS.
The seven Democrats and two Republicans who make up the House of Representatives committee are expected to set out exactly what happened on January 6 and who they believe were the ringleaders.
The hearing will feature visual illustrations such as text messages, photographs and videos, some which have never been seen publicly before.
There will be live testimony from US Capitol police officer Caroline Edwards, who was injured by the rioters, and filmmaker Nick Quested, who recorded the first moments of violence.
The committee is trying to determine if Trump or members of his inner circle had a role in planning or encouraging the violent attack, and has subpoenaed advisors and aides to the former president.