Thompson candidacy would trip up networks

“TNT is really in uncharted territory here,” says Gary Belis, vice president of communications for the Television Bureau of Advertising.

“This is a major block of their programming, so they’ve got to be scrambling. Certainly there would be an economic impact because you’ve got to deliver the ratings you promised your advertiser, and these shows do well. Maybe the lesson to be learned here is don’t put all our eggs in one basket.”

The role of the conservative, crime-fighting D.A. fits perfectly with Mr. Thompson’s personal political persona, so his “L&O” stint — even just viewers’ memory of it — could be a plus for his presidential campaign. In movies and TV, he tends to be cast as politicians, military men and sheriffs. Maybe it’s his towering height and Southern drawl.

But you’ve got to wonder how the situation would play out if Mr. Thompson’s 100 hours of TV time had been spent playing a murderer, cross-dresser or stupid sitcom dad. The actor might have been begging the networks to remove his work (or his image might not have been very presidential to begin with), and the other contenders might have been happy to keep him on the air.

Networks, candidates and stars are keeping a close eye on the Thompson case. Hollywood and Washington frequently cross paths, and not just for fundraising and influence-peddling. Rumors of potential star candidates waft through the air every four years. Warren Beatty has been mentioned as a presidential contender numerous times, along with Martin Sheen (who played a president on TV in “The West Wing”), Alan Alda (“M*A*S*H” star and “West Wing” presidential candidate) and George Clooney.

Although the “Law & Order” crisis won’t bloom fully until Mr. Thompson announces his candidacy — which could be today, tomorrow or (as currently rumored) the Fourth of July — the affected TV networks might be trolling their archives right now in search of different programming.

If we wind up with night after night of “Matlock” reruns on TNT, we’ll know whom to blame.

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