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How to watch the first debate and how it works

Nick Corasaniti, New York Times News Service

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump face off Monday in the first debate of the 2016 general election campaign. The details:

MSNBC, set up for advance coverage and broadcast of Monday night's presidential debate, at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Sept. 25, 2016. In a campaign that has veered from traditional policy arguments toward a more tribal battle over national identity and values, Clinton and Trump are more sharply opposed over racial and gender issues than any two presidential opponents in decades. (Sam Hodgson/The New York Times)

— Debate Time

The debate begins at 9 p.m. ET and will last about 90 minutes.

— The Location

The debate will take place at Hofstra University, an 11,000-student private college on Long Island that hosted debates in both 2012 and 2008. It was initially left off the rotation this year but was called in as a backup after Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, pulled out, citing rising costs for security and its failure to raise enough money.

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— The Moderator

The bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates chose the moderators this month, and Lester Holt, the anchor of NBC’s “Nightly News” drew the long (or short) straw. He immediately came under fire from Trump, who complained to Bill O’Reilly that Holt was a Democrat and part of “a very unfair system.” But Holt is, in fact, a registered Republican, and has been since 2003.

— Topics

The moderator selects the topics for the debate and submits them to the commission. Holt selected “America’s Direction,” “Achieving Prosperity” and “Securing America.”

These topics cover a lot of ground and could refer to anything: the economy, national security, domestic policy or the environment, to name just a few. But they also allow Holt to keep the debate flexible and choose questions that relate to current news and each candidate’s platform.

— Format

The debate is divided into six 15-minute segments, with two segments per topic. Debates tend to be somewhat fluid, however, and can go over schedule — or off the rails — on a specific subject, despite the best efforts of an experienced moderator like Holt.

— Rules

Holt will open each section with a question, and the candidates will 

each have 2 minutes to respond, uninterrupted, by the other. The rules can sometimes allow for interpretation from the moderator, who must try to keep the discussion on track and not get caught up in extended back-and-forth between the candidates.

Those looking for a town hall-style debate, where half of the questions come from audience members and social media, will have to wait for the second debate, on Oct. 9 in St. Louis.

— How to Watch

Between coverage on major television networks, live streams and social media, it would take effort to miss the debate. If you do plan to tune in, some viewing options:

ON TV: The debate will be carried by all three major broadcast networks — NBC, CBS and ABC. It can also be seen on PBS, CNN and Fox News.

ON YOUR COMPUTER: Most news websites will be carrying a live-stream. We’re partial to

ON YOUR PHONE: If you decide for some reason not to watch on The New York Times mobile app, you can find the debate on CNNgo and the Fox News app.

ON SOCIAL MEDIA: Twitter will live-stream the Bloomberg Media broadcast, including its pre- and post-debate shows. Facebook Live will carry ABC’s live-stream, and also various news networks’ live broadcasts. YouTube will have live-streams from many organizations, including PBS, The Washington Post and Telemundo.

AT A LOCAL BAR: Yes, along with the hype and pomp comes debate-watching extravaganzas like you might find for the Super Bowl. Watering holes around the country will be showing the debates, but if you’re in a city that has a team in the baseball playoff hunt (like New York, Baltimore, Boston, Houston, Washington, Chicago, Detroit, Seattle, St. Louis, Los Angeles or San Francisco) or in Atlanta or New Orleans, whose teams face off in Monday Night Football (much to the chagrin of Trump), getting the volume turned up on the debate might be difficult.