Lorne Michaels got political in the very first season of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.”
The TV producer cast Chevy Chase as President Gerald Ford, turning the Republican into a stumbling, bumbling Commander in Chief back in 1975.
It didn’t matter that Ford’s athletic background was beyond dispute. Michaels and co. turned Ford’s rare missteps into a recurring bit.
“The news coverage was harmful, but even more damaging was the fact that Johnny Carson and Chevy Chase used my ‘missteps’ for their jokes. Their antics — and I’ll admit I laughed at them myself — helped create the public perception of me as a stumbler. And that wasn’t funny.” – “A Time to Heal: The Autobiography of Gerald R. Ford.
“SNL” became the go-to source for political humor. The series lampooned whoever held power, from the hapless President Jimmy Carter to President Bill Clinton (and his voracious appetites). That ended when Barack Obama took the oath of office in 2009.
The comedian tasked with impersonating President Obama said the show “gave up” on mocking the first black president after a while.
“SNL” all but ignores flawed Democrats like President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and, of course, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Except the mastermind behind “SNL” won’t admit it.
The New York Times interviewed Michaels about the show’s 48th season, starting Oct. 1. The conversation touched on sizable cast changes, Michaels’ future with the show (he’s not leaving) and “SNL’s” liberal bias.
The Times scribe didn’t frame it as such, but it’s clear that’s what he meant.
“Do you pay attention to criticism from people who say they don’t feel represented by the show’s politics anymore?
Michaels offers a rambling answer, ending with a revealing quote:
“But the first priority can’t be not offending people you like or who are powerful… and if someone does something stupid, it would be glaring to not deal with it.”
None of these snagged an “SNL” skit last year. VP Harris’s gaffes, her fleeing staffers and results-free methods similarly didn’t get name-checked on “SNL.”
The show pretends she doesn’t exist, at least as a satirical target.
To be clear, Michaels isn’t afraid of offending Democratic politicians. His bigger concern? A sharp satirical haymaker can have real-world consequences, from Chase’s Ford to Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin impression.
Both reduced the politician in question, and Michaels and co. can’t risk that. It explains why late night hosts strain to avoid mentioning Biden’s mental state or Harris’s word salad jamborees.
The Times reporter, sensing Michaels’ dodge, reframes the question about “SNL’s” liberal bias. Michaels, again, ignores it.
“Between the pandemic and presidency, people were truly frightened … We went through a really scary times, the last four years. Hopefully, we’re coming out of it and it’s just the old scary things like a depression or war.”
He’s being pithy, but he still won’t torch the administration playing a role in both calamities.
There’s zero reason to expect “SNL” season to reverse course and skewer both sides of the political aisle. If Michaels can’t even address the show’s glaring bias in a New York Times interview, he has no intention of restoring the show to its satirical roots.