When Donald Trump hosted “Saturday Night Live” in 2004, he held forth in multiple sketches, like a spoof of “Regis and Kathie Lee” and a fake ad for “Donald Trump’s House of Wings.” In 2015, the show was considerably more stingy with his time.
Trump, the leading Republican candidate for U.S. President, was spotted on screen for just about 12 minutes, according to Variety‘s measurement of the episode, and possibly a little less. In contrast, Amy Schumer was on screen for between 25 minutes and 26 minutes when she hosted the October 10th broadcast of the program and Miley Cyrus was on camera for between 21 minutes and 22 minutes when she hosted the venerable late-night series’ 41st season opener on October 3.
Though Trump carried the opening monologue (with some help from Larry David and impressions by Taran Killam and Darrell Hammond) and appeared in the entirety of the show’s second sketch of the evening, he was not allowed to carry any segment of the program on his own. His minimal appearance on the show would suggest NBC was extremely cognizant of TV’s so-called “equal time” rule, which mandates that U.S. broadcast and radio stations that grant appearances to political candidates must provide an equal amount of time to other candidates who request it.
From early on in the show, it was clear “Saturday Night Live” writers and staff had devised creative ways to allude to Trump without necessarily putting the real-estate executive on screen. In one sketch, Trump told viewers that he would offer live-tweet commentary about the proceedings, rather than taking part in them. In the end, his tweets – adorned with a red, white and blue Trump logo – were fake.
On “Weekend Update,” Bobby Moynihan’s “Drunk Uncle” character praised some of Trump’s ideas, but Trump was not on hand to express them himself. In another sketch, Vanessa Bayer and Cecily Strong reprised the porn-star pitchwomen they have played in several sketches over the years, this time promoting Trump’s campaign with malapropisms. Moynihan came on camera to utter Trump’s trademark line “It’s huuuuuge.”
Candidates who want equal time are not guaranteed to get what Trump received. NBC could send them to various programs operated by NBC News, or to NBC-owned stations or some of the network’s affiliates. But other people striving for the office could certainly gain publicity for themselves by making the request – and bring more scrutiny to the broadcast network, which is owned by Comcast’s NBCUniversal unit. NBC could also make the case that it had Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton on “Saturday Night Live” during the season opener – and granting Trump, a Republican, time on this Saturday’s program shows it is acting in good faith.
To be sure, Trump made the most of his screen time. He had daughter Ivanka Trump join him in a sketch that looked at how he might conduct himself if he did win the Oval Office. He took an extended run at introducing a song by musical guest Sia, bantering with Kenan Thompson playing Toots Hibbert, the reggae musician who was the musical guest when Trump hosted in 2004. And he played a member of a bar band trying to get attention for playing “laser harp.”
But Trump will not be remembered as being one of the show’s more versatile hosts. When regulars like Alec Baldwin or Justin Timberlake hold forth on “SNL,” they often show up in what seems like nearly every sketch. Trump did not provide the equal of those friends of the program, and it seems quite likely that NBC did not want him to do so.