March 6, 2008 / 8:41 AM / 10 years ago

Candidates ride wave of TV appearances

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - Is it a coincidence that Hillary Clinton’s first primary victories in more than a month happened after her buzzworthy appearances on “Saturday Night Live” and “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart?”

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton waves to supporters at her Ohio primary election night rally in Columbus, Ohio March 4, 2008. REUTERS/Matt Sullivan

Clinton’s presidential campaign was all but written off after 11 straight primary losses, but her brief appearances on both shows, along with “SNL’s” sharp criticism of the press corps as being too light on Obama, has helped turn her campaign around and led to a greater scrutiny of her opponent.

“I think ‘Saturday Night Live’ will come up as a factor, large or small,” NBC News anchor Brian Williams said on MSNBC on Wednesday, a day after Clinton won the key states of Ohio and Texas.

While no one’s willing to say that the “SNL” appearance led to the victories, it’s clear that it had some kind of impact.

“We know something happened in the last three days of the campaign that put her over the top,” said CNN political analyst Bill Schneider, who credits the “SNL” factor as one plausible explanation.

Joe Trippi, former John Edwards campaign manager and now an analyst for CBS News, said Clinton’s “SNL” and “Daily Show” moments extended well beyond TV and into the minds of primary voters.

“It’s not just the millions who watch the shows,” Trippi said. “Now it’s also YouTube and the buzz that’s created, and everybody’s talking the next day about the things that happened.”

Paul Levinson, chairman of the communications department at New York City’s Fordham University, said the “SNL” boost may have been trumped by Clinton’s “3 a.m. crisis” ads. But her appearance showed that she was relaxed and had a sense of humor about the campaign and herself.

Trippi said the return of the late-night shows following the three-month-long writers strike has brought some much-needed scrutiny to the campaign. Without “SNL,” Jay Leno, David Letterman and others to rib the two front-runners, the other Democratic candidates, especially Edwards, may have been hurt, Trippi said.

“We believed the writers strike was killing us because there was no one poking into the soft spots of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama,” he said.

He and others have expressed a belief that the greatest value of “SNL” in recent weeks may not have been the boost it gave Clinton’s candidacy but what it did to shame the press corps into a tougher approach with Obama.

“It really helped the press look at itself and recognize they might have been too easy on Obama,” Trippi said. “And voters were able to look at it, too.”

Well-timed media exposure has boosted candidates since the early 1960s, when then-Sen. John F. Kennedy appeared with his wife, Jackie, on Edward R. Murrow’s “Person to Person” and in 1968 with Richard Nixon’s “Sock it to me?” on “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.” More recently, President Bill Clinton revived his flagging 1992 candidacy in part by a saxophone-playing stint on “The Arsenio Hall Show.”

CNN’s Schneider said an earlier appearance by Bill Clinton after his disastrous 1988 DNC nominating speech helped squelch the criticism and show that he was willing to laugh about himself. But the super-heated media landscape has upped the ante and made these appearances, and the YouTube factor, even more important.

“We have never been in an age where there has been more video, professional and amateur, work done for political campaigns,” Levinson said. “I expect this to continue to play an important role in the campaign.”

Obama, who has appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and made his own walk-on role during the Halloween episode of “Saturday Night Live,” might even employ it himself.

“He has a chance to use the media in a different way as well,” Trippi said. “We’ll just see how it goes.”

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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