Law & Order and Campaign Finance (Or: What Will TNT Do Without Fred Thompson?)

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In the campaign finance system, there are two separate yet equally important groups: candidates who have a myriad of film and television credits to their name and the networks who broadcast them. These are their stories:

Wondering why Fred Thompson is taking achingly long to throw his hat in the ring? Well NPR had a nice bit this morning on what role “Law & Order” might have to do with it. Seems that according to “equal time” provisions of campaign finance law, NBC would have to provide Thompson’s competitors commercial time that would amount to the time Thompson is on camera in each episode.

Which isn’t a lot. According to the formula of “Law & Order,” the DA figure (now played by Thompson) typically appears three or four times. One: to urge Jack McCoy to take a deal/and or bemoan how the case will hurt his reelection changes. Two: to yell at Jack when he/the cops screw up. Three: Twist in case requires sage insight and/or reprise point one. Four: Witty bot mot at end of episode, typically over a glass of what looks to be mighty fine bourbon.

Still, that probably adds up to 5 minutes. And if NBC had to give all of Thompson’s primary opponents 5 minutes of prime time, that could add up. So NBC has decided to stop airing any repeats that contain Thompson once he announces (all hail, Adam Schiff!), and next season Sam Waterson (aka Jack McCoy) will be promoted to DA. (Which, I might add, makes no sense, given how Jack has done everything in his power to piss off the political establishment and voters low these many, many, many years.)

TNT, however, since they are not a broadcast network is taking the stand that it does not have to provide equal time, and is free to continue running “Law & Order” episodes containing Thompson over and over and over and over and over….

To say nothing of The Hunt for the Red October, which they play with mind-boggling regularity.

But there’s some chatter that the cable exception to equal time could be challenged and the Thompson campaign would be the test case. So if you’re with Fred, the actor, better watch him now, before everything from In the Line of Fire to No Way Out to Curly Sue to old episodes of “Bonanza” get scrubbed from TV Land. The concept, not the channel. Wait, that too!

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