U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said running for Senate "isn't a reality television show," but that doesn't mean it's devoid of drama and intrigue.

One of Graham's opponents, Thomas Ravenel, stars in the reality TV show "Southern Charm," and at least one other reality TV hopeful is running for Congress in New York.

As a result, regulators are scrambling to decide how campaign and communication laws apply to all the free publicity these shows provide.

At issue is whether federal equal time and campaign contribution laws apply to a type of television that didn't even exist when those laws first hit the books.

And the results - like some of the twists and turns of, well, a reality TV show - might not seem to make a lot of sense.

For instance, Bravo TV may continue to air "Southern Charm" reruns if it chooses up to the Nov. 4 election without worrying about providing equal time to Graham, Democratic challenger Brad Hutto or Libertarian Victor Kocher.

But that's only because it's a cable channel - a type of channel that didn't even exist in 1972, when the federal equal time statue was penned. Were the show airing on broadcast or satellite TV, then the Federal Communications Commission would require the channel to work with other candidates to provide them an equal platform.

Of course, it's debatable whether reruns of the show would help or hurt Ravenel, whose first-season escapades included fathering a child out of wedlock with a woman less than half his age and discussing his 2007 cocaine charge that led to his resignation as state treasurer.

Meanwhile, Ravenel poked fun at Graham's quip by saying Graham was part of a much costlier reality TV show, one that might be called "Adventures in Nation Building."

"His (show) is costing taxpayers trillions of dollars - and thousands of American lives," Ravenel said. "And unlike my show, you can't change the channel when his show comes on - and you can't stop paying for it, either."

Ravenel said his website would seek suggestions of other possible names for Graham's reality show.

In New York, a different reality show is raising a different kind of question.

Nick Di Iorio, a Republican challenging veteran Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney, considered allowing his bid for office to be filmed and aired later as a reality show. The campaign contacted the Federal Election Commission to get a sense of what rules may apply.

The commission had written a draft advisory opinion saying Di Iorio could appear on such a show as long as he doesn't get paid, but the campaign withdrew its request before the commission took a final vote on the matter Wednesday.

A statement on Di Iorio's campaign website said only that his campaign "has not received any reality show proposals from any cable television networks at this time."

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.