Donald Trump’s upcoming stint hosting “Saturday Night Live” is remarkable for two reasons: It marks the first time since 2003 that a presidential candidate has hosted the show while campaigning, and he’s returning to the network in which he spent much of the summer in a public feud.
Though the booking was announced Tuesday, negotiations with Trump’s camp had gone on for more than a week. NBC alerted its affiliates on Oct. 5, the Monday after Hillary Clinton appeared on “SNL’s” season premiere, that a Trump appearance was in the works.
“We got a heads-up after Hillary was on,” Stephen Baboulis, vice president and general manager of NBC affiliate WNYT in Syracuse, N.Y., told TheWrap. “We got our usual notification on that Monday morning. We kind of had a hint that that was being discussed with the Trump camp.”
The early warning was compelled by FCC rules that govern TV appearances by candidates. Under the equal-opportunity rule, affiliates are required to disclose via a public filing that candidates have appeared on their air outside of news programming. Rival candidates can then request equal time in the same hour on the affiliate.
WNBC in New York, for example, issued a filing after Clinton’s appearance marking her on-air time as 3 minutes and 12 seconds. For “SNL,” NBC distributes notes on Monday after the show to the affiliates to place in their public files. It was with the distribution of the Clinton note that WNYT got advance word of negotiations with Trump.
“They always handle it properly,” Baboulis said of NBC. “They have a lot of lawyers.”
Those same FCC rules also complicate “SNL’s” internal processes. For most bookings, executive producer Lorne Michaels operates with near-complete autonomy. But because of the equal-opportunity rule, Michaels must give the network advance notice when he plans to have a candidate on — alerting NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt, alternative programming chief Paul Telegdy and lead late-night executive George Cheeks, as well as the network’s legal department.
Greenblatt and Trump have traded jabs since the network and former “Celebrity Apprentice” host parted ways in June following Trump’s derogatory remarks about Mexican immigrants at a campaign event. Trump then threatened to sue NBC in July after the network dropped the Miss USA pageant, which he and parent company NBCUniversal co-owned, from its air. Greenblatt, at the TCA summer press tour in August, when asked if Trump might ever return to “Celebrity Apprentice,” replied, “Absolutely not.”
But Trump and NBC eventually settled some of their differences, with the network’s parent company, NBCUniversal, selling its share of Miss USA’s parent company to Trump, freeing him up to flip the pageant organization to IMG in September.
Trump sounded a rare conciliatory note Tuesday when speaking to Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto after the “SNL” announcement. When asked by Cavuto where his relationship with NBC stands now, Trump said, “Really I think very good.”