NBC’s Former Specials Chief Now Planning Presidential Debates In Afghanistan

Back in February, Phil Alongi, the former executive producer of NBC News’ specials unit, left 30 Rock for good to start his own media consulting business. For the previous year at NBC, he had been working around the clock to plan, coordinate, and execute TV coverage of the presidential campaign. So what is Mr. Alongi doing four months later? Planning, coordinating, and executing TV coverage of the presidential campaign … in Afghanistan.

To wit: Not long after leaving NBC News, Mr. Alongi landed a consulting job with Tolo, an independent TV network in Afghanistan, to help plan their coverage of the country’s upcoming election in August.

“When I came a month and a half ago, we sat down and discussed how we would do the political coverage,” Mr. Alongi told The Observer on Friday morning, via phone from Kabul. “It’s wonderful to work with people who are so hungry for information. They want to get it right.”

Mr. Alongi said that most of his new coworkers at Tolo speak English. Many of them are fresh out of college. All of them are gung ho about covering the upcoming elections for an independent media outlet. “There’s one guy I’m working with here, who graduated as a doctor,” said Mr. Alongi. “He’s got a medical degree. But he wants to work here at the station. He got the bug.”

Mr. Alongi said that, to date, his duties have been varied. He has helped build a new TV studio, design a debate logo, and create more branding opportunities for the network. “I’m getting involved in things I haven’t done in 10 or 15 years,” said Mr. Alongi. “It’s exciting and interesting and different.”

“I show them the whiz-bang stuff we did at NBC,” he added. “They say, ‘Well, we can’t do this.’ I tell them, ‘I don’t expect you to do this, but I know that you can grab and steal ideas out of this.’ That’s what they want to know.”

At the moment, the longtime debate guru for NBC News is also trying to figure out how to stage Tolo’s first televised presidential debate. The challenge? There are 41 viable candidates.

“Obviously, you can’t have 41 people on stage at once,” said Mr. Alongi. “That’s impossible. But you also don’t want to just invite the top five because the other guys are going to say, ‘That’s not fair!'”

There are plenty of other challenges that Mr. Alongi will no doubt have to grapple with between now and election day. The network has two channels, one for each of the country’s major languages. At the same time, many residents still get their news from radio. And while Kabul is relatively secure these days, many of the network’s correspondents will be spending election day reporting from the provinces, which are much less safe.

Results from the election will also take longer to count in Afghanistan than in the U.S., meaning that election day coverage will stretch out for at least a week—all of which suits Mr. Alongi just fine. “It’s a perfect situation for me,” said Mr. Alongi. “It’s very hands on.” NBC’s Former Specials Chief Now Planning Presidential Debates In Afghanistan