Enter Thompson, Exit "Law & Order"?

Speculation is increasing that former Republican Senator Fred Thompson will enter the presidential race. Some think his name recognition and star quality could vault him into the top tier of presidential contenders. He also has the support of many intelligent conservatives in the blogosphere, such as Professor Bainbridge.

One potential consequence of a Thompson campaign could be the blackout of "Law & Order" episodes in which Thompson appears. As the Washington Post reports:

Federal campaign law requires broadcasters to give all candidates equal time on the airwaves. That rule applies to entertainment programs like "Law & Order," meaning stations which run the show would be required to give other GOP candidates a like amount of prime time television exposure.

With as many as a dozen or more Republican candidates competing for the nomination, that would be prohibitively expensive.

"As a practical matter, [the television stations] would in all likelihood have to pull all of the Fred Thompson shows for the duration of his candidacy," said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, president of the Media Access Project.

This could be a big deal for cable networks such as TNT that broadcast several "Law & Order" episodes every day.

An interesting twist, however, is that the FCC's "equal time" provisions have never been applied to cable networks, though cable networks typically comply "voluntarily." This leads the Post story to speculate whether a Thompson campaign could provoke a legal challenge to the application of the rule to entertainment programming on cable TV.