NBC executives defended having Donald Trump host "Saturday Night Live" several months after the network said it was breaking all business ties with the real estate mogul because of his divisive comments about immigrants.
The high ratings, and Trump's status as the Republican front-runner in the GOP presidential campaign, justified his appearance on "Saturday Night Live" in November despite the controversy it created, NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt said Wednesday.
"At the end of the day, he was on the show for 11 minutes and ... it wasn't like the Earth fell off its axis," Greenblatt told television writers during NBC's session at the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Pasadena.
"It was a highly rated show, and that's always good thing," Greenblatt said. "And he is the front-runner for the Republican nomination."
"He's good fodder for comedy as well," interjected Paul Telegdy, NBC's president of alternative and late-night programming.
But Trump's highly rated appearance on "Saturday Night Live" came less than six months after the TV network, owned by cable TV giant Comcast Corp., made a high-profile statement denouncing Trump's statements about Mexican immigrants.
"At NBC, respect and dignity for all people are cornerstones of our values," parent NBCUniversal said in late June, explaining its decision to pull out of a broadcast of the Miss Universe pageant, which was then co-owned by the Trump organization.
"Due to the recent derogatory statements by Donald Trump regarding immigrants, NBCUniversal is ending its business relationship with Mr. Trump," the statement said, adding that Trump no longer would be a part of "Celebrity Apprentice."
It was NBC's "The Apprentice" show that made Trump into a reality TV star with his stock line: "You're fired."
The journalists persisted Wednesday, asking whether it was a double standard for the network because NBC seemed to pivot so quickly and gave Trump such a prominent platform on "SNL."
Greenblatt said the network did, in fact, end its business ties with Trump, who will not be part of "Celebrity Apprentice" going forward. And NBC won't be broadcasting the beauty pageants.
"We got out of both of those businesses," Greenblatt said.
The NBC chief also indicated that timing, and Trump's surge in the polls, was a factor in his appearance on "SNL." NBC said it would break its ties last summer "when most of us thought he would be sort of waltzing into the background of the political arena," Greenblatt said.
But by the fall, Trump was galvanizing crowds in rallies around the country, and as a candidate, he had catapulted into the front of the Republican presidential pack.
"The poll numbers are astounding, and he's everywhere," Greenblatt said. "He's on every news show, every morning show, every nightly show, every cable news show. ... Like it or not, he has become one of the most important political figures of our time."
Telegdy became testy when a reporter raised questions about NBC's involvement with Trump, saying that NBC had every right to invite newsmakers on to its programs. "Does that answer the Donald Trump question?" Telegdy snapped.
NBC ended up having to provide complimentary air time to six other presidential candidates to fulfill "equal time" requirements for political candidates. None of those candidates got time on "Saturday Night Live."
NBC also trumpeted its ratings strength, saying it was the only of the Big Four broadcast networks to retain its audience from last season. The peacock network has launched two new sucessful dramas, "Blindspot" and "Chicago Med."
The network averages 9.4 million viewers in primetime and ranks first in the coveted 18- to 49-year-old demographic -- widening its lead over CBS.
In total viewers, CBS continues its dominance.
NBC also announced a Feb. 21 special dedicated to the legendary sitcom director James Burrows, which is expected to reunite the six cast members from "Friends." Greenblatt also said NBC was planning "Hairspray" as its live musical in December, but the deals have not all been signed.
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