NEW YORK — Amid high anticipation and sharp criticism, Donald Trump is set to step onstage in Studio 8H tonight to host "Saturday Night Live."
Despite a 40-year history of lampooning politicians while inviting some to mock themselves as on-air guests, booking a presidential candidate to host the NBC sketch-comedy show is almost unprecedented.
Previously, only eight politicians served as guest hosts. Only one of those — the Rev. Al Sharpton, in 2003 — was actively involved in a presidential bid at the time. (Hillary Clinton appeared in last month's season premiere, but not as the host.)
This won't be Trump's first turn as guest host. The billionaire developer and media celebrity presided in April 2004, a few weeks after NBC's "The Apprentice" debuted.
This time, "SNL" will serve as a campaign stop on Trump's drive for the Republican presidential nomination.
Meanwhile, the TV platform granted him has fanned the flames of outrage sparked in June when he announced his candidacy and described some Mexicans who are in the United States illegally as criminals and rapists. Those immigration comments spurred NBC to sever its Miss Universe ties with Trump while declaring he would never return to his "Apprentice" role.
This week, NBC faced mounting pressure from a coalition of advocacy groups calling for Trump to be dropped from "SNL" for what one spokesman termed his "racist demagoguery."
NBC has not responded to the outcry, and Trump's 90 minutes in the "SNL" spotlight seemed certain.
Typically outspoken, Trump has welcomed the controversy, predicting it would only boost his audience.
For candidate Trump, whose many interview and debate appearances are drawing large viewerships, a spike in this week's "SNL" ratings seems assured.
"Saturday Night Live" airs at 11:30 p.m. EST Saturday.