In the aftermath of Donald Trump's recent hosting appearance on Saturday Night Live, five Republican primary candidates — Jim Gilmore, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, and George Pataki — have requested that NBC honor its obligation to give each of them 12 minutes and five seconds of screen time, to match the amount of time Trump had on the sketch show, reports Variety.
NBC has been compelled to offer the time thanks to the FCC's equal-time rule, which states that broadcast stations must give equal screen time to all candidates in an election. If your local ABC affiliate allows one mayoral candidate to present an on-air op-ed, it should allow any other candidates to do so as well.
However, the equal-time rule doesn't usually apply to news programs or interviews, which is why Jimmy Fallon or Stephen Colbert can have the presidential frontrunners on their talk shows without being forced to invite the rest of the candidates as well. (Classifying either Fallon or Colbert talking to a candidate as a "news interview" can seem like stretching that definition to its breaking point, but it's generally accepted.)
Trump's hosting gig was a very different thing
In general, very brief appearances on entertainment programs have also evaded complaints from rival politicians.
For instance, earlier this fall Hillary Clinton appeared in a short SNL sketch without Bernie Sanders or Martin O'Malley batting an eye. Larry Lessig, who briefly mounted a campaign for the presidency, asked NBC for equal time but was not granted it, perhaps because the network did not consider him to be a serious contender (or perhaps because he shortly thereafter suspended his campaign).
But appearing in a single sketch is very different from hosting an entire episode of SNL, which is why some candidates are taking NBC up on its offer. The network will ultimately get to determine if and how to honor the requests; it could offer the affected candidates free ad time to make up the differential, for example, or it could add them to its late-night interview rotation. The network will make its proposals directly to the candidates' campaigns.
Some candidates have only requested air time in individual markets in early primary states, rather than on the network as a whole. Four of the five, for instance, have filed requests with the NBC affiliate in Des Moines, Iowa.
And while this situation will almost certainly result in fairly prosaic solutions, we thought it would be far more helpful to NBC if we made some suggestions for how to utilize these candidates in its nationwide programming. Here are six separate ideas — one for each candidate, and then one for all five at once — that will allow the network to fulfill its obligations to provide both equal time and entertaining programming.
Jim Gilmore joins Kathie Lee and Hoda on Today
As the one GOP candidate who hasn't been invited to any of the party's approximately 5,000 debates, Jim Gilmore has made his dissatisfaction known. He's grumpy about getting so left out that he doesn't even get to crash the conciliatory secondary debate, due to the fact that his polling numbers are as close to zero as they can get without actually being zero.
All things considered, he could take his time on NBC for some lighthearted morning show fun. Kathie Lee and Hoda, queens of the Today show's infamous fourth hour, would undoubtedly welcome Gilmore with open arms and a jug of morning wine. (Though, to be fair, that is how they greet most everyone.) Cheers!
Mike Huckabee is trapped beneath a heavy piece of machinery on Chicago Fire
Some of the most moving and enthralling stories on Chicago Fire have involved a guest star of the week being trapped in a place where he or she can't escape, while the show's firefighters and paramedics try to talk them through the pain, so that they might survive or confront death peacefully.
Mike Huckabee's chief asset has always been his warm, folksy demeanor. And warm, folksy demeanors are catnip to these sorts of shows. Huckabee could be the guy whose legs are pinned beneath a bulldozer or something, while the Chicago Fire crew has to keep him distracted from the precariousness of his ordeal. Plus, Chicago Fire is a mid-tier performer for NBC — just as Huckabee has been for most of this campaign.
Lindsey Graham is a witness to a crime on Law & Order: SVU
On any given episode of SVU, the detectives have to question suspects, witnesses, sobbing family members, and unsuspecting grocers. Lindsey Graham could be one of those grocers. Just imagine Detective Olivia Benson striding up to question him as he methodically stacks crates, or boxes, or outdated toys on a holiday display: "Oh, that guy? Yeah, he came by about seven days ago. Six foot, easy. Had a limp. Went by the name 'Armani' and said something about wanting to kill a guy? Anyway, don't know if that's helpful or anything, but I hope you catch the sonofabitch."
Of course, it's possible that Graham's appearance would be too distracting. In that case, SVU would have to fall back on one of its most trusted trope: The most famous guest star in the episode probably did the crime.
John Kasich serves as guest judge on The Voice
Of the five candidates who've applied for NBC airtime, Kasich is the one with the best poll numbers, which means he should get to hang out on the NBC show with the best ratings — The Voice.
Does Kasich know anything about judging a singing competition? We have our doubts, but surely he can be coached to deliver some bland platitudes about how various contestants really found their voices or something similar. And with two hours of screen time to play with (minus commercials), incorporating Kasich into 12 minutes and five seconds of an episode would be easy to do.
George Pataki hangs out on Undateable Live
NBC's underrated, underwatched Friday-night sitcom could enjoy a burst of Pataki momentum if it built an entire episode around the characters' excitement over Pataki coming to the bar. Plus, the show is set in Detroit, and Michigan is often an important primary and/or battleground state. The fact that every episode of Undateable is filmed live would help in terms of keeping up with SNL.
Even if Pataki doesn't have comic timing, that's nothing Undateable hasn't dealt with before. Since it switched to live broadcasts, it's given in to its gimmicky side, so it could just surround Pataki with Vine superstars or pull a stunt like having him grow a mustache and then shave it live on air. And amazingly enough, this would probably be less humiliating than having Trump pretend to play a laser harp.
All five candidates take part in a Jimmy Fallon lip-sync battle
The easiest way to solve the equal-time conundrum, though, is to just throw them all into Jimmy Fallon's three-ring late-night circus and force them to lip-sync for their lives.
Just imagine it: Lindsey Graham warbling "Achy Breaky Heart." Pataki whipping out "New York, New York" to get the home crowd energized. Huckabee attempting to rap or, more likely, shrugging his way through Vanilla Ice. And then Jim Gilmore could strut his way through a defiant "I Will Survive" — even if, again, the polls suggest he definitely will not.