MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Here's one more political story that caught our attention. Republican presidential contender Donald Trump is scheduled to host "Saturday Night Live" on November 7. That's two weeks from today. Up to this point this season, Trump has been a fertile source of material for this venerable comedy showcase, which started its 41st season this year.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")
TARAN KILLAM: (As Donald Trump) Not bad, right? I mean, talk about foreign policy experience, we've got the same interior decorator as Saddam Hussein.
MARTIN: But news that Trump will be hosting an entire show has set off drama of a different sort. Many people are wondering whether it will require stations to give the other candidates the same amount of time under federal rules. But others are angry that "Saturday Night Live" invited Trump at all, saying the move legitimizes his remarks by Trump that many people consider racist, such as those describing Mexican immigrants as criminals. We wanted to talk about all this, so I have with me here in our Washington, D.C., studios NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans. Hi, Eric.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hi.
MARTIN: So a lot of people will remember political candidates having been on "Saturday Night Live," you know, before. You know, Sarah Palin's been on, John McCain, you know, a bunch of other people.
MARTIN: What's different about this that triggers all these questions?
DEGGANS: Sure. Well, Donald Trump is the frontrunner for the GOP nomination in many polls. And as far as I can tell, he is the only frontrunner for a major nomination in a political party to host "Saturday Night Live" while he's running for that nomination. Now, Al Sharpton hosted while he was running for the Democratic nomination, but he wasn't the frontrunner. And other people who have run for president, like John McCain or Steve Forbes, who have hosted, hosted when they were not candidates.
MARTIN: What about this whole equal time question? We don't have time to get into all the nuances of the law. But could other candidates demand time as a consequence of Trump being on this program, and has that ever happened before? For example, when Sharpton was running, did other candidates successfully get time?
DEGGANS: Sure. So basically there's this rule in the Federal Communications Commission that says that individual TV stations have to give equivalent time to opposing candidates when a candidate gets featured the way Trump will be in entertainment programming, not news programming, like a debate or a town hall meeting or something like that. So what will probably happen is that they will time how long Trump appears, and then someone like Jeb Bush could go to individual stations where there is sufficient campaign activity. So we're thinking that that would be New Hampshire and Iowa, where the campaigns have kind of concentrated. It doesn't mean Jeb Bush gets to host "Saturday Night Live." What it means is those stations in those areas might give him an equivalent amount of time. We do know that Joe Lieberman, for example, cut a deal to get some time on some stations when he was running against Al Sharpton for the Democratic nomination.
MARTIN: Now to the other issue here. A number of Hispanic civil rights groups have reacted very angrily to this. Congressman Luis Gutierrez - he's a Democrat from Illinois - even gave a speech on the House floor about this earlier this week. So we called him up to ask him about it, and this is what he said.
LUIS GUTIERREZ: I hear people say bigoted things against African-Americans. I hear them say hateful things against gays and lesbians. I hear them say misogynistic things against women, and we say no. You don't deserve, right, to get aired on a program. And people have lost their programs. TV networks and the American public has said, you know what? You're too extreme for us. But this is what they're doing on that program - they're saying it's OK to say these kinds of things. And it's not OK, and I don't think Americans think it's OK.
MARTIN: What about that? What about that, Eric?
DEGGANS: I think that's a really good point. And in fact, when you look at NBC's history with Trump, they fired him as host of "Celebrity Apprentice," and they also disentangled themselves from his Miss USA and Miss Universe beauty pageants because of those comments that he made about Mexican immigrants. And now all of a sudden, they have decided not only to let him be guest host on "Saturday Night Live," but he's also going to take part in a town hall meeting that's moderated by "The Today Show" anchor Matt Lauer on Monday. So suddenly, NBC has decided it's OK to get involved with Trump again. But what has changed? Those comments have not changed. And in fact, he has a doubled-down on them. But there is a sense that by having Trump host "Saturday Night Live," it puts the show at the center of the political conversation in a way that it hasn't been in a long time in the way they did with Sarah Palin and the way they did with George W. Bush. But, you know, their current sketches haven't really done that. And so by having Trump come on, they're taking the guy at the center of the political conversation and putting him right at the center of their show.
MARTIN: That's NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans. Eric, thank you.
DEGGANS: Always a pleasure.
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