Donald Trump

Melissa McCarthy Returns to Spicer Up ‘SNL'

The comedian hosts this weekend for the fifth time amid expectations raised by her rollicking portrayal of President Trump’s combative press secretary.

President Trump, who stunned many by firing FBI Director James Comey Tuesday, won't sack his press-battling press secretary, Sean Spicer, The Washington Post recently reported. The Trumpian reason: TV ratings.

"Everyone tunes in" for Spicer's daytime briefings Trump said, according the paper's unnamed source.

Spicer's also poised to drive nighttime viewing habits this weekend as Melissa McCarthy hosts "Saturday Night Live" for the first time since kicking off her recurring surprise appearances as Trump's flack in early February.

Her hosting stint comes as we've reached the odd point where Washington press briefings and "Live From New York" comedy appear to have forged a symbiotic ratings relationship.

Six days after McCarthy’s first turn as Spicer, The New York Times reported his briefings boosted cable news ratings by about 10 percent and outpaced some soap operas. The next day, McCarthy’s second round as Spicer helped “SNL” reap its most-watched installment in six years.

Chalk it up to a by-product of a business-as-unusual presidency rooted in an obsession with television. Perhaps that shouldn't be surprising in a country steered by a chief executive who rose to the national stage largely through Reality TV, fueled by a publicity-at-any-price ethos valuing exposure over content.

Reports suggest Trump frequently watches the tube, including plenty of Fox News. After being elected, he found time to taunt his "Celebrity Apprentice" successor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, over low ratings, and slammed "SNL" over Alec Baldwin's unflattering portrayal of him. “Really bad television!” Trump tweeted five days before taking office.

But the President was wrong about "SNL," which is logging its highest season viewership numbers since the Clinton Administration. McCarthy's transformation of Spicer's podium into a mobile, literal bully pulpit, is a breakout hit on TV and online: Her initial Spicer jaunt has drawn 27 million hits on YouTube alone.

In three outings as a gum-chugging Spicer, she's earned a spot in the “SNL” hall of fame of political mimicry, alongside Chevy Chase's iconic physical klutz imitation of Gerald Ford and Tina Fey's verbal klutz take on Sarah Palin.

McCarthy hosting performance this weekend also will make some modest history, landing her in the so-called "Five-Timers Club" with the likes of Baldwin, Steve Martin, Tom Hanks, Justin Timberlake and others whose return "SNL" appearances arrive amid high expectations.

Trump, a two-time “SNL” host, might hold the highest office in the country, but he likely won't get a "Five-Timers" smoking jacket. He turned down an opportunity to appear on the show this season, Baldwin told Ellen DeGeneres last week.

Maybe the President doesn't want to give “SNL,” which is likely to tackle the Comey firing this weekend, a ratings bump. The country might be split on whether the President is qualified to lead, but it’s undeniable that Donald Trump knows like few others what makes viewers to tune in.  

Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

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