Trump can hate on SNL all he wants, but he won't stop watching

Updated 11:59 AM ET, Wed February 20, 2019

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Bill Carter, a media analyst for CNN, covered the television industry for The New York Times for 25 years, and has written four books on TV, including The Late Shift and The War for Late Night. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.

Perspectives Bill Carter

The president obviously had some executive time on his hands in Mar-A-Lago over the weekend, and he chose to tune in to one of his old favorite TV shows — only to be disappointed again.

Yes, "Saturday Night Live" was at it once more, skewering the president's "national emergency" announcement in the Rose Garden and ruining his après-golf evening.
What previous president has ever been mocked so mercilessly by comedy performers? All of them? (OK: Obama, maybe not so much.) This one, however, has stepped up to be the first to call for "retribution" against "SNL" and, for good measure, other network shows he sees as mistaking funny for cruel.
As Trump put it:
"Nothing funny about tired Saturday Night Live on Fake News NBC! Question is, how do the Networks get away with these total Republican hit jobs without retribution? Likewise for many other shows? Very unfair and should be looked into. This is the real Collusion!"
What form this retribution might take was not spelled out, other than being "looked into." But the word retribution is defined as "punishment inflicted as vengeance," which sounds pretty serious.
Alec Baldwin, the Trump impersonator for "SNL," took it seriously enough to wonder in his own tweet Monday if the president's words might constitute a threat to the actor's safety. After all, a Trump supporter was charged last year with attempting to send pipe bombs to CNN's offices and several public figures Trump has railed about in the past, including George Soros, Hillary Clinton and President Obama.
Mostly, however, this tirade drew the same less-than-apoplectic reaction as many previous Trump fulminations by tweet: just more Trump noise — move along everybody.
    Likely Trump will not follow up in any meaningful way. He has spoken vaguely in the past about threatening the broadcast licenses of stations owned by NBC. Vaguely, because he mentioned NBC's "license," in the singular, and networks don't have licenses. Stations they own do, and those are indeed regulated by the federal government, though the president is not permitted to order the Federal Communications Commission what to do. (Up to now, anyway.)
    That didn't stop Richard Nixon from trying to intimidate station license holders like CBS and The Washington Post during Watergate days. It was reported that he managed to at least cow CBS a bit into telling Nixon it would cut back on "news analysis" after presidential speeches (though CBS always said it did not follow through on that promise).
    Station licenses are less valuable in this era when the dominance of three networks is a distant memory; so intimidation tactics probably wouldn't work anyway. Nor is overt persuasion likely. There have been no reports thus far of the president resorting to calling Lorne Michaels of "SNL" or the NBC executive hierarchy to insist on muting the mocking.
    A president actually did do that once. Lyndon Johnson called William Paley, the founder of CBS, in 1968 to urge CBS to squash the irreverent mocking of him on the network's hit show "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour."
    These days, Trump would have to make a lot of calls. Virtually every late-night comedy show drowns Trump in nightly ridicule. For that reason alone, "SNL" does not deserve to be singled out.
    Baldwin's appearances as Trump have also slackened off a bit this season. The Tru