Having just gone through the possibility of one of its stars, The Apprentice‘s Donald Trump, running for president, NBC is running into the same problem with a potential new star, Roseanne Barr. The Roseanne alumna this evening announced that she’s running for the Green Party’s presidential nomination after filing paperwork with the Federal Election Commission on Jan. 25. That was 2 days after NBC picked up her multi-camera comedy, Downwardly Mobile, to pilot. Barr’s slogan, as relayed by her on Twitter, “Vote for me, I’ll fix this shit! -Barr 2012-“
For the time being, Barr’s presidential run does not pose a problem for NBC as the project, which she co-created and stars in, is in a pilot stage. But things will get dicier if NBC picks it up to series in May and Barr ends up as the Green Party presidential nominee as the campaign doesn’t wrap until the November election, well into the fall season, which starts in September. According to FCC’s equal-time rule, which applies to “all legally qualified candidates” who have “substantial showing” in the campaign, TV and radio stations are obligated to offer equivalent time to competing political candidates if one gets free airtime. While the rule’s application to entertainment shows featuring candidates is more ambiguous than when the candidates do news programs, networks err on the side of caution. For example, when Fred D. Thompson entered the race for the Republican nomination in 2008, he quit NBC’s Law & Order and NBC stopped rerunning episodes of the show that he was featured in. Last year, NBC also indicated that The Apprentice star Trump would be recast if he chose to run for President. Similarly, Alec Baldwin of NBC’s comedy 30 Rock toyed with the idea of leaving the show in order to run for office. (Isn’t it strange that its always talent on NBC shows that have political aspirations?) Barr is known for outrageous moves, including her recent plan to behead bankers who don’t return profits. Still, the timing for her presidential run is strange as it comes just as the actress signed a seven-year deal with 20th Century TV for Downwardly Mobile.
Of course, a lot has to happen for NBC to run into possible equal-time problems, including Barr both to get her pilot picked up to series for next season and to land the Green Party nomination. For now, at least the latter appears a long shot. Barr is in a four-way race for the Green Party nomination and said on Twitter that “I will run until the convention in July in Baltimore-I fully expect Jill Stein 2b the nominee & I will support her, but til then-I’ll serve.” Still, even if she doesn’t win the nomination, if Barr remains actively involved in the campaign supporting the nominee, that may make NBC uncomfortable if it decides to pick up her series for fall, which could result in the network postponing the launch of the show until after the elections. NBC declined to comment but people in the know indicate that it will likely take a wait-and-see approach the way it did with Trump who eventually opted not to run.
Whether Barr gets the nomination or not, NBC will face a predicament if it opts to order her pilot to series as she plans to be very visible during the campaign. “I will barnstorm American living rooms,” she said in a candidate questionnaire submitted to the Green Party. “Mainstream media will be unable to ignore me, but more importantly they will be unable to overlook the needs of average Americans in the run-up to the 2012 election.” Will NBC welcome the free publicity for Barr’s potential new show or find that a liability?