The special, set to air the night of Jan. 20, will include speeches by both President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris as well as celebrity performances

By Adam Carlson
January 13, 2021 12:12 PM
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The unprecedented inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will feature a Jan. 20 primetime TV special hosted by Tom Hanks, following a day of ceremonies, in what the inaugural team is calling a "capstone" to "showcase the American people's resilience, heroism, and unified commitment to coming together."

The 90-minute program will air on the major broadcast and cable news networks, except for Fox, who is streaming it instead, according to a news release from the inauguration team.

The special will include speeches by both President-elect Biden, 78, and Vice President-elect Harris, 56, as well as celebrity performances.

Ant Clemons, Jon Bon Jovi, Demi Lovato and Justin Timberlake will all perform. Clemons and Timberlake will sing their "Better Days," which they wrote.

Timberlake said on the Today show on Wednesday that he was "incredibly excited" by the opportunity, calling it an "honor."

"We got the phone call to be asked for that and I was like, 'Uhh yes,' " he said jokingly.

Next Wednesday's inauguration was already going to be unlike any other, held in the shadow of a pandemic that has killed more than 350,000 people in the U.S.

The deadly insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, whose participants were encouraged by President Donald Trump, posed further challenges — raising questions about security and underlining the Trump-fueled rage Biden has said he can overcome.

Biden's inaugural team said the special "will highlight the strength of our democracy, the perseverance of our people, and our ability to come together during trying times and emerge stronger than ever before."

From left: Tom Hanks, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris
| Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty; Win McNamee/Getty; Lorenzo Bevilaqua/Walt Disney Television via Getty

"The program will celebrate American heroes who are helping their fellow Americans through this crisis, including frontline workers, health care workers, teachers, citizens giving back, and those who are breaking barriers," organizers said in the news release.

The inaugural committee CEO, Tony Allen, said in a statement that the inauguration "presents a unique opportunity to spotlight the resilience and spirit of an America United. We have witnessed countless heroes this past year step up to the frontlines and serve their fellow Americans, so we are telling their stories, spreading their collective light, and celebrating the best of our country and its people with this prime-time program."

Much about this year's inauguration will be different from previous ceremonies: The health risks from the pandemic led organizers to limit attendees to a few thousand and to encourage the public not to travel to Washington, D.C. — while last week's violent riot raised additional concerns.

In lieu of the traditional in-person festivities such as musical performances, inauguration week parties and inaugural balls, Biden has organized a virtual parade after his swearing-in on the Capitol steps and inaugural address.

"Our first priority is safety — so while many of us will be watching safely from our homes, we are creating real moments of connection that highlight a new inclusive American era of leadership that works for and represents all Americans," Allen said in his statement.

The Hanks-hosted TV special will air at night, after Biden and Harris participate in a military ceremony and Biden attends a wreath-laying with other former presidents.

Inauguration organizers are also encouraging a day of service on Monday, to mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and are organizing a memorial for the victims of the novel coronavirus on Tuesday.

"Celebrating America" will air on Jan. 20 (8:30 p.m. ET) on ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC and NBC as well as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and other streaming platforms.