NEW YORK, NY – The nation's top television networks had the patience to follow the House debate on impeaching President Donald Trump on Wednesday — but only to a point.
When Speaker Nancy Pelosi's gavel signaled that Trump had been impeached, CBS was airing the season conclusion of “Survivor” and ABC was showing a live version of the old “All in the Family” sitcom. The Fox broadcast network, which hadn't shown the hearing all day, aired “The Masked Singer.”
NBC was the only major broadcast network to stick with impeachment through the vote.
ABC's decision to switch away seemed sudden; the network was airing the conclusion of the impeachment debate at 8 p.m. Eastern time. Shortly after anchor George Stephanopoulos said the sitcoms would be shown later in their entirety, ABC cut away.
Both ABC and CBS broke in for special reports after the votes were concluded, and returned to the entertainment programming.
Cable news networks CNN, MSNBC and Fox News Channel showed much of the impeachment effort, although Fox opinion host Tucker Carlson made clear he considered the effort “nonsense.”
Trump was speaking at a rally in Michigan as the vote was taking place but was given only brief attention by the networks. Fox News Channel kept a postage stamp-sized picture of Trump on its screen, but it was mostly soundless.
The House began debating impeachment shortly after noon. ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC stayed with the proceedings largely full-time during the day when they didn't have to worry about preempting more lucrative prime-time programming.
The alternating brief speeches by Democrats and Republicans felt like a political version of speed dating featuring people who couldn't stand to be in the same room together. Viewers playing a drinking game at home would have been in trouble if they had the phrases “sham,” “travesty,” “above the law” or “I didn't come to Congress to impeach a president” as triggers.
CNN's Jake Tapper appeared emotional when the vote to make Trump the third American president to be impeached was formalized, even if the the result seemed preordained.
“That doesn't really take away from the emotion of this moment,” Tapper said. “You feel the weight of this moment now.”
Fox's Carlson exhibited disdain, not awe.
“We're treating this like a momentous occasion,” he said. “Maybe we're playing into the propaganda narrative.”
Earlier, Fox News cut away from Rep. Adam Schiff of California, who was summing up the case for the Democrats.
“That's enough of that for right now,” Carlson said.