Larry Lessig, the Harvard Law School professor who is waging a bid for the Democratic nomination, is asking NBC stations for equal time after Hillary Clinton’s Oct. 3 appearance on “Saturday Night Live.”
An attorney for Lessig’s campaign, Adam Bonin, sent a letter on Oct. 10 to 47 affiliates asking them for comparable time to that given to Clinton — three minutes and 12 seconds. That was the length of time that she appeared on “SNL,” when she appeared as Val, a bartender, trying to console Kate McKinnon, playing Hillary Clinton.
“‘Saturday Night Live’ is many things, but it is not a bona fide newscast, news interview, news documentary, or on-the-spot coverage of bona fide news events such that it would be exempt from your equal time obligations under the law,” Bonin wrote.
NBC’s vice president of regulatory affairs, Margaret Tobey, responded to the Lessig campaign’s request by asking for proof that Lessig is a “legally qualified candidate,” as is required by equal time rules. Such proof includes qualifying for primary or presidential preference ballots, or that he has made a “substantial showing of a bona fide candidacy.” NBC’s Tobey noted that Lessig also is required to provide proof that Clinton is a legally qualified candidate.
Bonin said that they would be responding to the NBC letter earlier this week.
After the Clinton skit aired, NBC gave notice to affiliates of her appearance and asked to be alerted if any station received a request. With Donald Trump scheduled to host “Saturday Night Live” on Nov. 7, the network could face even greater demands for time if his rivals request it.
The network also could request a news exemption, as has been given to shows like “The Tonight Show” when candidates appear. But “SNL” is a sketch comedy show, not an interview show, even though it often deals in current events. If the network does seek an exemption, the FCC would make the call.
Lessig’s campaign platform is to “fix democracy,” including reforms, such as limiting the influence of money in politics providing matching funds for small-dollar contributions.
Lessig reported raising just over $1 million in the most recent quarter ended Sept. 30, with contributors including director J.J. Abrams, TED curator Chris Anderson, director Davis Guggenheim and former FCC chairman Julius Genachowski.
Bonin wrote that they are “not asking for him to be placed on ‘Saturday Night Live’ itself, of course — just the opportunity he is guaranteed under federal law to use your publicly licensed airwaves to make his case to your viewers, comparable to what Secretary Clinton was afforded for free.”
That doesn’t mean Lessig won’t do late night: He was a guest on “Real Time with Bill Maher” on Friday.