NBC will stop airing any repeat episodes of LAW & ORDER featuring Fred Thompson now that officially declares himself as a candidate for president. However the cable network, TNT will continue to air old episodes of LAW & ORDER with Thompson staring in his recurring bit role as district attorney Arthur Branch. This could set up an interesting case for federal communications regulators whether the airing of such episodes is a violation of federal rules regarding equal time for candidates.
Ultimately, it might be the Federal Communications Commission which may have to decide whether TNT can continue to air the Thompson episodes if some candidate of either party or an individual seeks to challenge the airing of any episodes involving Thompson with an official complaint.
TNT also continued to air movies with actor Arnold Schwarzenegger while he ran for governor in Califonia, while some other cable networks avoided his films during the actual campaign. At the time, TNT drew no complaints or FCC action. However the Thompson episodes of LAW & ORDER as well as his film work which involve a candidate for national office could be far more likely to draw a complaint from somewhere in the nation, and could set up a new standard where it is not appropriate to air TV or films involving a current candidate for national political office.
TNT has built a successful network and audience loyalty around the airing of quality dramas such as new episodes of THE CLOSER and SAVING GRACE, as well as the old NBC episodes of LAW & ORDER. TNT could be forced to only air the older episodes of LAW & ORDER before Thompson joined the program if there is a FCC dispute. However for many years, LAW & ORDER has set high standards for a great drama, and the older episodes of LAW & ORDER involving the late great NY stage actor, Jerry Orbach, still have a strong audience durability. TNT might just might find themselves forced to air these older episodes if they find themselves involved in the complexities of the federal equal time rules and the subject of FCC attention.
As a series, LAW & ORDER has been around since 1990. It was originally intended to air on CBS back in 1988, but a pilot from creator Dick Wolf failed to sell. But in 1990, NBC purchased the series, and with two more successful spinoffs added over the years, it is has become a bedrock foundation program on NBC and also NBC's sister cable network, USA Network, despite extensive casting changes. In 2006, there were some rumors of a possible cancellation floating around, but the series managed to survive.The 2007-2008 season series will recast the role of Thompson with Sam Waterston as Jack McCoy promoted to district attorney. Compelling cases has made the show very durable.
For TNT, their toughest case involving LAW & ORDER could well come before the FCC.
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