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Supporters of Donald Trump’s political campaign – or people who simply love a good laugh – could presently not be happier that the outspoken billionaire has been tapped to host Saturday Night Live on the November 7 episode of Season 41. Behind the scenes, however, it is becoming a logistical nightmare for the show – and NBC at large, and it all comes down to - what else? - politics.
A somewhat convoluted FCC regulation referred to as the equal-time rule has created the issue, according to Variety. The regulation states that free airtime offered to one candidate must be offered in equivalent amount to rival candidates as well. Politicians have made appearances on SNL during political campaigns for years, but typically in amounts where their airtime proved negligible enough that other candidates never took the network up on the offer for equal airtime. For example, when Hillary Clinton appeared on the show earlier this month, the network kept careful track of just how long she appeared – roughly 3 minutes and 12 seconds – and extended an equivalent offer to other candidates in the race. However, Trump’s hosting gig differs because it represents far more than just a quick cameo appearance.
Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, made a statement explaining the difference:
Unlike Hillary making a very short one-sketch appearance, this candidate is going to be hosting and on throughout the program. To me that has kind of crossed the Maginot Line in terms of triggering the equal time rule… The amount of time he will be on screen will be substantively different than a cameo. And given the dynamics of the race, where they are trying to humanize him and show that he is not just a bloviator, it is incredibly politically valuable to him.
This sort of thing has happened in past elections. During Arnold Schwarzenegger’s run for governor of California in 2003, many TV stations opted not to air any of his films for fear of violating these types of rules. Similar events occured for actor-turned-politician Ronald Reagan during his own 1980 campaign for the oval office. Trump’s self-funded campaign has thus far thrived off of the free publicity his polarizing views have generated, so NBC’s decision on the matter could end up setting a new precedent for the campaign.
This issue only represents the tip of the iceberg in terms of how controversial this episode of SNL has already become. Outside of political regulations, Trump’s hosting duties have been widely criticized by some fairly substantial voting blocks. Because of his remarks towards the Latino community, the Hispanic coalition has petitioned for NBC to drop him as host of the show, and has also urged people to boycott Saturday Night Live as a means of having their voices heard.
It’s difficult to say what will happen at this point. If NBC opts to press forward and let Donald Trump host Saturday Night Live, one thing is for sure: it will prove one of the most controversial episodes in the series’ history.