Entertainment Television

Trump vs. Clinton debate promises to dominate prime time

By Bill Harris, Postmedia Network

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke/Evan Vucci/File)

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke/Evan Vucci/File)

I wish to declare a knockout on the phrase “knockout punch.”

As in, “There was no knockout punch tonight.”

If nothing really explosive happens in the first U.S. presidential debate on Monday, Sept. 26, between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, please, please, please, I don't want to see or hear or read the phrase “no knockout punch” from political commentators. They always say it as if it's a surprise, trying to pass it off as analysis.

Here's the thing: There almost never is a knockout punch in a big-time political debate. There hasn't been one in close to 30 years. Politicians today tend to be too slick and slippery and rehearsed.

Is there potential for Trump and Clinton to go off-script and get a little nasty? Sure. But regardless, the phrase “no knockout punch” from pundits grates on me, it really does.

The debate Monday will air live on all the big U.S. Networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, PBS) as well as many of the cable-news channels on both sides of the border (CTV News Channel, CBC News Network, CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, Fox News). Start time is 9 p.m. in the East, 6 p.m. in the West.

How this impacts your favourite American prime-time shows depends on what time zone you're in, obviously. Like, if you're watching an American channel in the East, a new episode of Kevin Can Wait will air before the debate. In the West, it will air after the debate.

So you'll have to check your local listings, but overall, here's what the big U.S. networks have decided:

ABC is planning to air a new episode of Dancing with the Stars.

CBS is planning to air new episodes of The Big Bang Theory and the aforementioned Kevin James sitcom Kevin Can Wait.

Fox is planning to air a new episode of Gotham.

NBC is planning to air a new episode of The Voice.

But any other American network prime-time shows that you usually watch on Mondays have been benched for the debate.

The one "knockout punch" guaranteed to happen Monday will be when the ratings are calculated. You'd have to think this is going to be one of the highest-rated debates in recent memory.

Percentage-wise, it won't be as high as when there were, like, three channels and John F. Kennedy was looking suave while Richard Nixon was looking shady. But adjusted to today's world, even with so many viewing and entertainment options, the combined totals for the debate Monday could be pretty gaudy.

By the way, I personally can recall only two “knockout punches” at major debates in my entire life.

The first was at a Canadian prime ministerial debate in 1984, when Liberal candidate John Turner was babbling about how he had “no option” other than to agree to a series of patronage appointments upon taking office as prime minister. Conservative Brian Mulroney pounced. “You had an option, sir,” Mulroney bellowed. “You could have said, 'I am not going to do it, this is wrong for Canada.' ”

Pow. Turner never recovered. Mulroney went on to win the election.

The second was at a U.S. vice-presidential debate in 1988. Republican Dan Quayle had been portrayed by the media as a young, dumb, inexperienced lightweight, and to combat that image, Quayle repeatedly pointed out that he had as much experience as John F. Kennedy did when Kennedy sought the presidency. Quayle made the comparison again at the debate, and you literally could see the eyes of 67-year-old Democrat Lloyd Bentsen light up. “I served with Jack Kennedy,” Bentsen said. “I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.”

Boom. But despite that “knockout punch,” George H. W. Bush and Quayle defeated Michael Dukakis and Bentsen in the election.

Ultimate results notwithstanding, I am making this request of everybody heading into Trump-Clinton, Round One:

Please don't utter the phrase “knockout punch” unless there is one. “No knockout punch” is not news.

bharris@postmedia.com