After scoring record ratings and getting tongues wagging across the nation for landing vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin as a guest star, Saturday Night Live executive producer Lorne Michaels gave EW the whole scoop on how his latest coup went down — and what really happened when Sarah met Tina.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What does this performance — huge ratings, buzz, etc. — mean for Saturday Night Live?
LORNE MICHAELS: It’s always cyclical. The things we do depend on for its popularity are whether the audience is connecting with the event. In an election where 80 million people watch a debate, the straight line is established, as it were. You don’t need to explain your terms or what you’re talking about. Everyone’s interested in this election.
Do you feel like the level of interest in SNL’s take is demonstrably higher this year than in past election years?
With the exception of 2000, because it was held over, there was another level to it. When we were doing the Bush-Gore debates, people were paying attention as well. What happened [this year] was the writers’ strike. The audience didn’t really understand what was happening, but all of a sudden we were off the air. I don’t want to say we were taken for granted. But all the shows that deal with the election were off the air with the exception of news, and we’re the people who hopefully put it in perspective. For us, the strike was incredibly frustrating on lots of levels, but it was the first time where we weren’t getting to express our feelings about things, which for people like us is not good. When we did come back, I wanted Tina [Fey] to be the first host back. One, because I thought she’d be great at it. But also because she embodied the writers’ strike. Because she is a writer and because she plays a writer. We had that first debate piece about the media’s swoon over Obama. That made people think about whether there was some validity to what he was saying, and it started from there. Then Tina’s editorial about ”bitch is the new black.” All of that at least opened up a discussion about what was going on with some intelligence. And once we were part of the debate again, the audience found us again…. The audience was right there for us and it built.
Is having the Thursday show helping you build buzz or hurting you because you’ve got to come up with even more material?
It’s hard to tell for us, because you don’t get to rewrite your Saturday show at the level you might want to. We did the debates both times so far, and those were things that really couldn’t hold. Those wouldn’t have the same impact on Saturday. But Josh Brolin was a very quick study, and I think we’ll be okay this week with Jon Hamm. The toll is more in fatigue than anything else.
Do you guys feel different when you’re getting so much buzz?
Definitely. Who doesn’t? All performers live for feedback.
NEXT PAGE: Could Sarah Palin have her own TV show?