'SNL' and Donald Trump face a HUGE challenge

Senator Al Franken talks Trump on SNL
Senator Al Franken talks Trump on SNL

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Senator Al Franken talks Trump on SNL 00:32

Story highlights

  • Dean Obeidallah: Trump's appearance on "Saturday Night Live' puts both candidate and show under pressure
  • He says Trump will want to look good to voters and may want to veto unpresidential bits; writers need to be funny but not risk him backing out

Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM's weekly program "The Dean Obeidallah Show," a columnist for The Daily Beast and editor of the politics blog The Dean's Report. Follow him on Twitter: @TheDeansreport. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)This week, Donald Trump is hosting "Saturday Night Live," and it's going to be HUGE!! I'm not saying huge in ratings or laughs -- we won't know about that till later. No, huge in terms of pressure -- on both Trump and "SNL."

Make no mistake, it will not be a typical show. I worked at "SNL" from the late 1990s to mid-2000s, and then, as now, the writers, producers and performers share the same priority with the host: making the show entertaining.
But Saturday's episode of this 41-year-old comedy institution might be the most challenging ever for the host and the show. Why? Arguably, both have different goals.
    Trump's front-runner status is slipping in some national polls, and the last thing he wants to do is hurt his standing with this appearance on "SNL." As Trump knows, his opponents and the media will parse not only every sketch he appears in but also likely every line he utters and every move he makes. This will likely affect the sketches that Trump agrees to be a part of on the show.
    Does that mean that Trump can veto material that "SNL" wants to air? Not exactly.
    But as "SNL's" co-head writer Bryan Tucker explained on my SiriusXM radio show two weeks ago, Trump, like all hosts, can have input into the show's content. The ultimate decision on the show's content may lie with creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels, but "SNL can't force its hosts -- whether Trump, Hillary Clinton or a celebrity promoting a movie -- to say lines they don't want to say or appear in sketches they find objectionable.
    So why is there pressure on "SNL"? A few reasons.
    Obviously this will be a highly rated show, so there is that added pressure to deliver. And given that Trump wants to look good for the electorate, he may hamstring the writers.
    But there's much more than that. Given the shrieking we heard from the GOP over last week's CNBC debate that many on the right claimed was unfair, we can expect Republicans to be analyzing this "SNL" show in great details for evidence of any "liberal bias." If Saturday's show doesn't out turn out well, or Trump is in a sketch that's judged "unpresidential," he can always blame "SNL." And given the CNBC debacle, it's easy to anticipate that Republicans would overwhelmingly side with Trump.
    After all, many on the right complained that the show went easy on Hillary Clinton, Tucker told me, when she made a cameo on "SNL" earlier this season, so they are already upset and primed to take offense. (That's why I don't object to Trump hosting, despite his despicable comments about Latinos. If "SNL" could only book people no one objected to, it would never be able to feature politicians.)
    The "SNL" producers and writers are truly navigating through a minefield. That's why I think the show bears the greater burden of pressure.
    Now, putting that all aside: Will Saturday's show be funny? Al Franken, a former "SNL" writer and performer and current U.S. senator, thinks so.
    Clinton imitates Trump on 'SNL'
    Clinton imitates Trump on 'SNL'

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    Clinton imitates Trump on 'SNL' 01:28
    I agree, but with one big caveat. It will be entertaining only if Trump lets the writers do their job and doesn't try to sanitize the content.
    After all, Trump did a good job hosting in 2004 when his focus was just on being funny. And he's a far better performer today than in 2004, which was his first season hosting "The Apprentice." In fact, I bet even Trump would describe the 2004 Trump as having the dreaded "low energy" compared with Trump 2015.
    Some of the funniest parts of that 2004 "SNL" were when Trump made fun of himself, which he desperately needs to do more of to confront the well-supported charge that he's thin-skinned. For example, in the opening monologue back then, Trump in essence parodied his penchant to brag with the line, "It's great to be here. But I'll be honest, it's even better for 'Saturday Night Live' that I'm here."
    Clinton and Trump on 'SNL' trigger 'equal time' rules
    Clinton and Trump on 'SNL' trigger 'equal time' rules

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    Clinton and Trump on 'SNL' trigger 'equal time' rules 05:16
    And later in the show during a parody of "The Regis and Kelly Show," Trump mocked his boastfulness about getting big ratings: "Regis, if I turn away from the camera, your ratings will drop five points." Trump then playfully hid his face behind his new book, which he was hawking.
    Hopefully Trump will let the "SNL" writers do their job instead of trying to turn Saturday's show into a 90-minute Trump campaign commercial. Then the show could indeed be huge, as opposed to HUGE-ly disappointing.