CNN said the aim was to fill the auditorium with citizens representing a range of conservative views, but the network declined to identify specific groups that were consulted, saying it did not want activists trying to game the system at future events.
In keeping with past network practice, the Trump campaign was provided invitations for about 20 guests to attend the town hall, although these guests were not allowed to ask questions of the candidate. Officials at Saint Anselm College were allowed to invite about 70 people. The total audience was 300 to 350 people.
In the days leading up to the town hall, Ms. Collins prepared with the team in New Hampshire extensively, according to a person familiar with the matter, going over potential falsehoods Mr. Trump might utter onstage. Mr. Licht gave feedback, and Mr. Trump was played in mock debates by Mark Preston, CNN’s vice president of political and special events programming,
Mr. Licht’s decision to select Ms. Collins for the high-profile assignment underscored her rising prominence as an on-air anchor at CNN. The network is finalizing a multiyear contract with Ms. Collins that will make her the anchor of CNN’s currently vacant 9 p.m. hour, according to three people with knowledge of talks. That hour is a crucial time slot for advertisers, and Ms. Collins’s recent tryout in that time-slot last month drew favorable ratings.
Puck earlier reported that Ms. Collins was nearing a deal with CNN.
Ms. Collins’s deal, combined with Don Lemon’s recent ouster from CNN, means that the network will have to retool its morning show. The network is looking for new co-hosts to pair with Poppy Harlow, Ms. Collins’s co-anchor on “CNN This Morning.”
Some CNN critics had asserted that the network cut away early from the Trump event, which ended around 9:10 p.m. In fact, the event was always intended to last an hour or so, with a panel of analysts ready in a studio to take over coverage at the start of the 9 p.m. hour.