I knew this would come up if Fred Dalton Thompson ran for President.
If Fred Thompson, the onetime Tennessee senator better known to most Americans as District Attorney Arthur Branch on "Law & Order," runs for president, some fans may be in for a letdown. Television stations are expected to suspend reruns of the show if he makes a real-life bid for the White House.L&O has been on the air for 17 years, counting the 2006-07 season. According to IMDB, Thompson has appeared in 109 episodes. That is less than 1/3 of all the episodes of that show. A television season is generally 22 shows. That times 17 is 374 episodes. Remember the most recent season is on NBC right this minute, that takes 22 episodes out of any syndication package. At present that would leave 87 episodes give or take a few. That comes to about twenty-five percent of the episodes available for reruns.
Federal campaign law requires broadcasters to give all candidates equal time on the airwaves. That rule applies to entertainment programs like "Law & Order," meaning stations that run the show would be required to give other GOP candidates a like amount of prime-time exposure.
With as many as a dozen or more Republican candidates competing for the nomination, that would be prohibitively expensive.
"As a practical matter, [the television stations] would in all likelihood have to pull all of the Fred Thompson shows for the duration of his candidacy," said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, president of the Media Access Project.
Thompson, who remains a member of the "L&O" cast, would likely leave the show if he decides to run, observers said.
The equal-time provision, enforced by the Federal Communications Commission, has been a staple of political campaigning for decades. Its primary goal is to make sure that candidates cannot be frozen out of crucial television time for their campaign commercials.
Candidates' appearances on newscasts, interview programs and at news events are exempted from the rule. So are incidental appearances in documentaries.
But the rule has been applied to television and movie stars in the past.
During the 2003 gubernatorial race in California, television stations dropped all Arnold Schwarzenegger movies out of fear that showing them would require them to give countless hours of free airtime to all 134 other candidates for governor.
Stations also dropped "Bedtime for Bonzo" and other Ronald Reagan movies during his campaigns for governor of California and president.
"Yes, this is a kind of weird application of what is a very good law," Schwartzman said.
There is potential good news for "Law & Order" fans. The FCC rules have never been applied to cable channels, though several legal experts said cable often abides by an equal-time guideline in the hopes of avoiding a legal case that would set a precedent.
Thompson's situation could spark such a case, though a spokesman for NBC Universal, which syndicates "Law & Order," said the network had no comment.
The TNT cable network shows several hours of "Law & Order" reruns every day and often holds all-day marathons. If that continues while Thompson is running for office, one of his rivals could seek to apply the equal-time rule to cable TV.
To do that, the other candidates would have to monitor each of Thompson's appearances, count the minutes he appeared, and then request equal time within seven days of each episode.
Only the actual time that Thompson appears in each episode is counted, legal experts said.
If a channel showed L&O weekdays once a day, they'd never run the same episode twice even without the Thompson episodes. Is this really going to hurt TNT or any other channels that show the reruns? It wouldn't seem so to me.
Also note- Thompson has appeared in eleven episodes of the Special Victims Unit L&O series, and two of Criminal Intent. You'd have to guess those episodes would be canned also under the equal time provision. Both series are also in syndication at present.
Hat tip- James Joyner at OTB
Linked to- Cao, Jo, Right Wing Nation, Pursuing Holiness,