by Natalie Finn | Mon., Sep. 26, 2016 1:44 PM
Millions of eyeballs will be trained on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump tonight as the presidential candidates debate each other for the first time. Experts are predicting massive TV ratings and we're guessing that, if Twitter doesn't spontaneously combust this evening, then nothing will ever really break the Internet.
But while people can't wait to hear what the contenders have to say, also under the microscope is debate moderator Lester Holt as he gears up to navigate what may turn out to be one of the bumpiest trips yet on what has been a long road to Election Day 2016.
The NBC Nightly News anchor is only expected to strike just the right balance of neutrality, fairness, journalistic integrity, timing and—yes—humor as he presses Trump and Clinton for 90 minutes (and no commercials) on pre-announced topics that include "America's Direction," "Achieving Prosperity" and "Securing America."
So here's a little bit more about the man who's been dealt perhaps the most daunting task of this presidential race so far:
1. His Credentials: In brief, the 56-year-old Holt is a veteran reporter and broadcast journalist who worked at CBS for 19 years before joining MSNBC in 2000. He served as substitute anchor on Today and NBC Nightly News while anchoring a two-hour newscast on MSNBC, also co-anchoring NBC's Weekend Today from 2003 until 2015 and working on Dateline since 2011. Last year, he became the full-time anchor of the network's flagship NBC Nightly News.
Holt got a little practice in when he and Andrea Mitchell moderated a Democratic primary debate between Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley in February, but some are predicting as many as 100 million people may tune in tonight. Yes, Super Bowl- and M*A*S*H finale-level numbers.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
2. Family Ties: Holt met his real estate agent wife Carol Hagen-Holt when she was working as a flight attendant and they've been married since 1982. They have two sons, Stefan Holt, who's now a news anchor at WNBC in New York, and Cameron Holt, an analyst at Morgan Stanley.
Hagen-Holt enjoys hitting the road with her husband and traveled with him to Brazil this summer to cover the Rio Olympics, but Holt has credited her for being patient with his unpredictable schedule over the years. "She understands that when the bell rings, I like to answer it, when the big story's going on, I want to be there," Holt told Extra last summer. "I love her to death, she's has been so wonderful, she knows this job is going to bring a lot of late-night phone calls, but she's there for me and that means an awful lot."
"It will be really nice to be able to sleep in on a Saturday and Sunday," Hagen-Holt said on Today when she and son Cameron surprised Holt on set when he was promoted to the Nightly News chair full-time. Stefan also congratulated his father via satellite.
3. Now That's a Nickname: Holt's on-air endurance, both traveling far and wide and covering such mentally taxing moments in history such as the 2000 recount earned him the nickname "Iron Pants" at NBC, according to SacTown Magazine in a profile of the Bay Area native last year.
Terry Wyatt/Getty Images for SiriusXM
4. He's All About That Bass: After family and work comes Holt's passion for music, particularly the electric bass and his first love, the upright bass.
His collection includes a few Fenders, a Yamaha Silent Bass and a Gibson SG—yet admittedly his hobby is a little at odds with the demands his career places on his time.
"There's no consistent practice," Holt told Making Music in 2009. "If I'm having a pretty slow month, I can yank the bass out and play for 15 or 20 minutes. But then I'll be traveling, or on a story, and it collects dust. With an instrument like this, because of the physical nature of it, if I take a month off and come back, it seems so heavy. My fingers hurt and I've got to get the calluses back."
But he doesn't seem to mind that erratic practice doesn't make perfect, because he knows he needs an outlet that has nothing to do with ratings, getting the story or being on the go.
"TV news is kind of all-encompassing; it kind of runs your life," Holt said. "I've come to realize that everybody needs something else in their life other than their profession. When I'm in a club or playing somewhere, I'm playing with guys who are not TV people and probably don't really watch me; it's a different world. It's Lester the bass player, not Lester the network newscaster."
5. This Is Your Captain Speaking: Holt is not a one-hobby man—he also likes to unwind behind the controls of an airplane simulator.
"I will sit there and program the flight management computer and I'll fly from Los Angeles to San Francisco," he explained in an NBC interview. "It's really nerdy."
Perhaps, but it's the cool kind of nerdy that also translates into deadpan cameos on 30 Rock and a "forced friendship" with Late Night host Seth Meyers.
May Lester Holt have a safe flight tonight. The debate gets underway at 6 p.m. PT/9 p.m. ET.
(E! News and NBC are both members of the NBCUniversal family.)
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