OPINION — It doesn’t matter that Donald Trump is one of the least photogenic personalities in the race for the White House. It doesn’t matter that he has the vocabulary of a fourth grader. And, it doesn’t matter that he is so over the top that he perches on a precarious ledge that could result in a major political crash. He’s hot.
Trump is now hot enough to command the most media coverage — mainstream and other — and hot enough to guarantee huge TV numbers. That’s why “Saturday Night Live” will chalk up some of its biggest numbers in years this weekend when Trump sits in as guest host.
This isn’t new turf for Trump. He hosted the show on April 3, 2004, and has been spoofed a number of times since by various SNL sketch comedians. But this time? It will be a ratings blockbuster.
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Will he step out on the stage with a giant, razor-wire fence separating himself from the audience, as he proposes along the border? Will he take the opportunity to use his opening monologue to take a swipe at his opponents? Will he be able to take as well as give when the one-liners start flying? It remains to be seen.
All we know is that among the presidential hopefuls, including the Democrats, Trump is the most experienced when it comes to TV, having shilled his brand on the reality series “The Apprentice,” which came on the air in 2004 and gave us the signature Trump line, “You’re fired!” SNL has, of course, found itself on the pointed end of barbs over the years for its content, which has often been laced with heavy sexual, political and drug commentary.
We saw Sinead O’Connor shred a photograph of the pope on SNL. We saw Elvis Costello stop only seconds into a song he was performing and switch over to “Radio, Radio,” a scathing tune about corporate broadcasting SNL producers and NBC suits had told him he could not perform. We saw SNL regular Fred Armisen mock then-New York Gov. David Paterson, who is legally blind.
We’ve seen drug humor, cultural satire, political commentary become staples of the show, with no sacred cows as SNL’s writers have gone after everybody, sometimes soaring to comedic heights, other times stinking up the joint and forcing viewers to reach for the remote. But, politics have been the show’s bread and butter and, it seems, every four years, the writing sharpens as the presidential campaigns ratchet up.
Tina Fey, as a matter of fact, did an incredible impersonation of Sarah Palin during several SNL episodes when the former Alaska governor was John McCain’s running mate. It went far beyond her striking resemblance to Palin as Fey got into the character, voice and mannerisms with uncanny sharpness.
We also remember how Chevy Chase and Dana Carvey spoofed Gerald Ford and George Bush over the years.
But, this is different, at least in some people’s minds, because Trump hasn’t even secured the GOP nomination, let alone being elected to any office. As a result, more than a few people are concerned that Trump’s appearance violates the Federal Communications Commission’s equal time rule, which is set up to ensure that the media does not hold undue influence in matters of controversy or politics. The rule, of course, is unenforceable.
There is no way to judge how media outlets — from the networks to newspapers to Internet news outlets — are doing in the way of fairness and equal time.
I mean, is anybody at the FCC really sitting there with a stopwatch and log book, noting how many minutes Trump gets on the air as opposed to, say, Ben Carson? Of course not, just as there is nobody counting the minutes Rachel Maddow is devoting to Bernie Sanders, how many minutes Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are spending bashing President Obama or how many minutes are being given over to the rest of the bunch.
It’s almost impossible to track at this point. And even if they did, by the time the FCC clamped down, the damage would already be done. The thing is, as we further complicate our world, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to distinguish the legitimate news sources from the freak shows that have sprung up from the far left and right.
There are also longtime fans of SNL who are rapping the show for having Trump as a guest host because his appearance in that capacity, rather than as a guest doing a cameo, implies, they say, an endorsement of his candidacy. In the old days, when SNL was relevant, that would have mattered. However, the show has been so spotty over the last couple decades that it has slipped badly in social, political and cultural relevance.
In other words, this ain’t your daddy’s “Not Ready for Primetime Players.” But, I’ll watch the show to see how the deal goes down. Will Trump be gracious and allow the barbs that are usually tossed in the guest host’s direction? Will he be self-deprecating? Will he be pompous? Will he be arrogant? Will he even approach being humorous? How much control will he actually have over the show’s content?
We’ve already seen how he has placed demands on networks that have carried the GOP debates. Will he be as demanding of Lorne Michaels, the creator and producer of SNL or will he simply dismiss him with a terse, “You’re fired!” It remains to be seen, which is why the show will have, undoubtedly, its largest viewership in years.
I don’t particularly like the idea of Trump hosting a show that was once the flagship of liberal, progressive politics and ideals. I don’t see how somebody with Trump’s racist, backwards views and crude demeanor can add anything to what was once the hippest show in television history. So, it’s difficult to admit that Trump’s appearance on SNL is nothing more than a sellout for ratings numbers and advertiser dollars. But, that’s what happens when you trade conscience for coin.
It has the potential, Trump willing, to be a very funny episode, although, in all probability, it will be a colossal trainwreck. But like most of America, I’ll hold my nose and watch. At least as long as I can keep my dinner down.
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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