There was a moment back in 2007 when the presidential election briefly threatened your constitutional right to watch Law & Order reruns. Fred Thompson, who was at that point playing District Attorney Arthur Branch on the show, briefly ran for president, and NBC vowed to stop airing episodes featuring the former (and now-late) Republican senator. According to Federal Communications Commission rules set nearly a century ago, and amended over the years as technology has changed, TV networks and radio stations have to give people running for elected office equal time to make their case to the public.
News coverage is exempt from this rule, which is why we have the luxury of watching riveting coverage of Donald Trump’s plane sitting on a runway.
We know networks love Trump; in March, the New York Times reported that the Republican nominee has received nearly $2 billion in free media. But though lopsided coverage of the candidates won’t technically get networks into legal trouble with the FCC, the Times added this week that some networks are trying to balance their devotion to bringing us the latest episode of the Trump Show in HD with coverage of Hillary Clinton, although her dislike of the press makes that goal difficult.
There’s another problem of equal coverage, however, that has absolutely nothing to do with Hillary Clinton, or with politics at all, for that matter. Donald Trump doesn’t only appear on TV to talk about the election, and the FCC rules do apply to entertainment programming like Trump’s Saturday Night Live gig and his cameo in Home Alone 2 — which is why Kindergarten Cop and Bedtime for Bonzo disappeared from TV when Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronald Reagan ran for office. (Networks are probably thankful that Trump isn’t in The Shawshank Redemption or Mrs. Doubtfire, or the entire ecosystem of TV comfort food might have been destroyed this year. Cable networks have also been exempt from FCC equal-time rules, but that could technically change in the future, so maybe TBS or another channel won’t want to run Apprentice reruns this year.)
If you happen to be a network executive desperate to feature Trump in as much coverage as possible (even if it has nothing to do with the election cycle), but are also terrified about what might happen if you have to start giving equal time to all the candidates, here are some ideas for how to make programming with other politicians as exhilarating as your 24/7 Trump coverage.
1. Letting Hillary Clinton play the secretary of state in all future episodes of Madam Secretary. (She already said that she’s game for a cameo.)
2. Make just-coronated Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson — former New Mexico governor and an Ironman triathlete and Mount Everest climber — a guest host on Man vs. Wild.
3. Every time The Little Rascals airs, Bernie Sanders gets to walk in on an especially emotional scene of Days of Our Lives to yell, "How can you care about this stupid relationship when wages are stagnated?" He then walks away and the episode continues as scheduled.
4. Every time Zoolander airs, Vermont senator Patrick Leahy’s scene in The Dark Knight will be expanded to include a short conversation with Hillary Clinton explaining how she would campaign against the Joker.
5. If the WWE decides it needs to air another special with Donald Trump, it will have to also let Bill Clinton come on and shave a Donald Trump look-alike while giving an ad-libbed talk on current economic trends.
6. If a network decides to cancel most of its programming and just start airing old episodes of Celebrity Apprentice, it will have to in turn let Bernie Sanders host a revival of Supermarket Sweep, in which the entire game is built around buying only as many wheels of cheese as you would be able to afford on a minimum-wage income while also paying for child care.
7. "Who is Jill Stein?" will have to be an answer on Jeopardy! every time USA airs the episode of Monk in which Donald Trump plays one of the "men in the party."
8. When there is a rerun of the Sex and the City episode featuring Trump — titled "The Man, the Myth, the Viagra" — the Democratic vice-presidential candidate will get the opportunity to host a ShamWow infomercial, explaining how the towel is a metaphor for how the makeup tax and the gender gap affect income.
9. Next time Nightly News relocates an entire show to Trump Tower, Lester Holt will have to travel back in time and ask Gary Johnson and his vice-presidential pick, former Massachusetts governor William Weld, if they ever thought they would be running against Donald Trump as third-party candidates. After the interview, Holt will join present-day Johnson and Weld and reveal their answers at a pot dispensary in Colorado.
10. If Donald Trump wins the election and decides to run the next season of The Apprentice from the White House, the 2020 election will be reimagined as a season of The Bachelor.