Lorne Michaels: How 'SNL' Got Sarah Palin

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How incredibly fortunate was it that the election's breakout star also happens to look exactly like Tina?
LORNE MICHAELS: There was all that, and it's the first election with a star in a long time. The great part about the Palin thing was — and I've said it all too often — was that the audience cast Tina. You'd read or people would come up to you and say, what a gift. You want to point out that Tina's no longer in the cast, that she has her own show. But I think if we had used Kristin [Wiig], who I think would've done a brilliant Sarah Palin, the audience would've been disappointed. No question about it. And Tina's fantastic.

What do you think Palin gained from her appearance?
I think Palin will continue to be underestimated for a while. I watched the way she connected with people, and she's powerful. Her politics aren't my politics. But you can see that she's a very powerful, very disciplined, incredibly gracious woman. This was her first time out and she's had a huge impact. People connect to her.

She's a ratings magnet, too — do you think she can land a development deal if this VP thing doesn't work out?
She could pretty much do better than development. I think she could have her own show, yeah.

Why was her impending appearance kept so under wraps?
From the experience on the first show of last season. Hillary's people had called to book the first show. This was in '07. We said okay, because they called first. Then she bailed. Obama had called just after, and I had to say, no, they called first. Everybody wanted to release it, and I said, no, too many things can happen in a campaign. Then Obama was set for the first show this past season, and it got leaked by the campaign to People.com, and we said, really? Because we don't do that. Then the hurricane happened, and we looked foolish. There were a lot of press calls, and it didn't happen. From that moment on I said I'm not doing anything until they're in the building.

Walk us through everything leading up to Palin's appearance.
Palin's people called the Monday after Tina's first appearance [as Palin]. I think about two or three weeks ago she booked the show. We don't talk about it. We wouldn't confirm it. The campaign started talking about it. John McCain mentioned it, I think Letterman asked him. But I wouldn't confirm it until she was in the building. NBC is hard to restrain on these kinds of things. Seth [Meyers] and I talked with her staff last Monday [the Monday before her appearance]. Then we met with two people from her staff at the studio Thursday afternoon. Then we showed them what we had and what we were hoping to still do. Then remember we had a show on Thursday, so we knew we wouldn't get to most of it until Friday. Saturday at 4 she got there. I said we need her at 4, and they said it's complicated. And I said we need her at 4, so we can guarantee to get her rehearsed and lit properly. My job on the most fundamental level is to make sure they look okay, and you can't do that if they're not lit properly. She got there, read everything, met with people, dealt with the writers of the pieces, and rehearsed. I think she started reading some stuff Saturday morning. Probably more like 2 in the afternoon. She had her eldest daughter and baby with her. She stayed till the end. She was in the goodnight. She had her own dressing room, where she was between her appearances. We do that.

NEXT PAGE: Why weren't Tina Fey and Sarah Palin on screen together?


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