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2016-10-26 16:32:14
Trump TV Offers (Fledgling) Framework for Potential Media Future

It was a few minutes after 7 p.m. on Tuesday when Trump TV conked out.

“We have to pause,” said Avi Berkowitz, the 27-year-old director, as he stared at a black square on his laptop where, moments earlier, Episode 2 of “Trump Tower Live” — the Facebook-only talk show produced by the Donald J. Trump campaign — had been streaming.

The panelists on the show, standing a few feet away in a makeshift studio inside a bland Trump Tower office, glanced around, confused. A makeup artist hired for the occasion fiddled with her phone. Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City and the night’s special guest, kept criticizing Hillary Clinton, until somebody noted that the camera had shut off.

Prime-time news, this was not. The set consisted of two wooden tables pressed together, facing a single camcorder on a tripod. The director, who eventually got the feed working again, was a recent Harvard Law School graduate with no broadcasting background.

Yet “Trump Tower Live” has been seized on as a harbinger of a potential Trump media empire to come.

The show, set to air through Election Day, debuted this week with a CNN-style crawl — filled exclusively with headlines favorable to Mr. Trump — and onscreen graphics borrowed from the cable news playbook. Essentially agitprop presented as news, the program is fueling speculation that Mr. Trump wants to start a network, purveying news and opinion tailored to the candidate’s worldview.

Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, has met with media figures to discuss options for a television venture. The proximity to Mr. Trump of Stephen K. Bannon, a top campaign adviser and the mastermind of Breitbart News, itself a successful national outlet, has also stoked talk of a media venture.

But speaking at Trump Tower on Tuesday before an evening taping, the creators of the show — who all work for the Trump campaign — dismissed such speculation as baseless.

“That’s part of a narrative that the left-wing media is trying to spin, in order to somehow suggest that Mr. Trump is not going to win this election,” said Boris Epshteyn, a lawyer who often appears on television on behalf of the Trump campaign and who serves as a co-anchor of “Trump Tower Live.”

The show “is not a trial balloon,” he added. “It’s a channel for messaging to voters that haven’t been reached yet.”

Judging by the scene at Tuesday’s show, the production was minimal: a five-member team, including a microphone operator in a navy blue Make America Great Again windbreaker, in a room overlooking the Trump Tower atrium.

As talk shows go, the mood was remarkably placid — perhaps because the pro-Trump hosts never disagreed with one another. The panelists — including a former lieutenant governor of New York, Betsy McCaughey — denounced the Affordable Care Act and accused Mrs. Clinton of committing a variety of criminal acts.

There was no green room for guests, but bottles of Trump-branded spring water were available.

As he waited for the broadcast to start, Mr. Giuliani said that he “would have loved” a similar tool during his time as mayor.

“This is a very effective way to get your message over and above all the interpretations — misinterpretations — that occur,” Mr. Giuliani said. “I wish we could have done it. It would have been a big help.”

Monday’s premiere episode attracted about 60,000 live viewers at one point, solid for Facebook, if meager for cable news. Tuesday’s edition, which aired after one of Mr. Trump’s rallies, saw a drop-off to 23,000 viewers, though Cliff Sims, Mr. Epshteyn’s co-host, said his team was still working out kinks.

“It’s an evolving thing,” said Mr. Sims, who built an online news and radio network called Yellowhammer in his native Alabama before taking a leave to join the Trump campaign. “We’re experimenting a little bit with the form it will take.”

Mr. Sims pitched the idea for a Facebook Live special on the night of the final presidential debate; that broadcast attracted millions of views and led to about 150,000 people donating to the campaign.

For its daily show, the campaign is considering afternoon broadcasts, and it is looking to see whether airing before or after a speech by Mr. Trump has an effect on viewership. While many noted that Monday’s episode aired at 6:30 p.m., opposite major network newscasts, Mr. Sims said that was a coincidence tied to Mr. Trump’s schedule that night.

Still, the “Trump Tower Live” crew has not shied away from asserting that it offers a corrective to traditional news outlets. “We’re excited to be bypassing the left-wing media,” Mr. Epshteyn declared on Monday’s broadcast, prompting Mr. Sims to add, “It would be malpractice on our part if we didn’t utilize these massive social media platforms that we have.”

Mr. Trump, for his part, has said he is focused on winning the election, not creating a media property. He told a Cincinnati radio host on Tuesday, “I have no interest in Trump TV,” and industry executives say the start-up costs for a news channel would be prohibitive. Even Sean Hannity of Fox News, a dedicated Trump partisan, sounded skeptical when asked about the idea in an interview last week.

“Good luck,” Mr. Hannity said. “It’s going to cost you half a billion just to get in the water.”

Still, Mr. Berkowitz, the Trump Tower Live director, offered a hint about his show’s ambitions.

“Younger people don’t watch CNN; they just don’t,” Mr. Berkowitz said, as the studio set was dismantled around him.

“This is how they get information,” he added. “This is the best way to bring it to them. And we’re happy to do that.”