Tina Fey isn’t lacking for work.
The “Saturday Night Live” hit the ground running after leaving the NBC institution. She created and starred in NBC’s Emmy-winning “30 Rock” and produced Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” in between film appearances.
This month, her “Mean Girls” update hit theaters and came in first with a hearty $33 million four-day weekend.
There’s a new gig waiting for her, though, one that makes perfect sense given her resume.
“SNL” show runner.
Lorne Michaels confirmed that Tina Fey is in the running to succeed him at 'Saturday Night Live': 'She’s a very important person in my life.' https://t.co/hVTk9aJNXk
— Entertainment Weekly (@EW) January 16, 2024
Lorne Michaels, who created “SNL” in 1975 and has led the show ever since (with a break from 1980-85), is mulling his exit strategy from the sketch series. He’s 79 and wants to hand the property off at some point in the near future.
“It could easily be Tina Fey, but you know, there are a lot of people who are there now,” Michaels told “Entertainment Tonight,” hinting that there are several names in the running.
Michaels added that Fey is “a very important person in my life.” The duo has co-produced several projects over the years, including the new “Mean Girls” feature and Fey’s 2016 comedy “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.”
That choice might sound disastrous to fans exhausted by the show’s extreme liberal bias. “SNL” once hit both parties more or less equally, saving most of their energy for the President du jour.
The modern “SNL” is hopelessly one-sided, all but ignoring Democrats in order to spite, and smite, the GOP at every turn.
The ultimate example?
A recent sketch that excoriated the GOP congresswoman who exposed the three Ivy League presidents for downplaying campus anti-semitism.
Why hire Fey, whose liberal leanings are no secret?
There’s no way Michaels would hand the show over to a right-leaning voice, let alone a rock-ribbed conservative. Not a chance. He’s made his political leanings clear via “SNL’s” progressive evolution, and the media maelstrom that would follow any conservative selection would be significant.
That leaves Fey as one of the best choices available. Why?
Let’s start with legacy. She worked on the show when it still delivered killer skits and political gags that weren’t as one-sided as they are today. That matters, and chances are she respects the show’s tradition more than your average executive.
She wouldn’t want to see “SNL” downgraded on her watch.
She has a track record of hitting both sides of the ideological aisle. She flexed that super power often via “30 Rock.” The fictional show’s boss, Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) epitomized the cold, calculating conservative in corporate America. Yet Fey and co. made Jack funny, wise and occasionally sweet.
Plus, he occasionally stood on the right side of an argument.
Meanwhile, Fey’s liberal heroine Liz Lemon was far from perfect. She cared about all the right causes but would stumble and bumble along the way.
Fey and her writing team knew to pursue laughs wherever they could, and they often crossed ideological borders to do so.
Fey wrote the recent “Mean Girls” update, piggybacking on her own 2004 product. In doing so she retained a key plot point from the source material. Young Cady (Angourie Rice, taking over for Lindsay Lohan) was successfully home-schooled before getting a crash course in Burn Book Culture.
That gave her an advantage over her peers. She’s smarter than most of them, and it shows. Yet “Mean Girls” 2.0 also finds Fey’s teacher character lamenting the impact home schooling has on teacher’s unions.
Fey saw both sides of the educational argument and featured them both in the film. That’s smart and more balanced than most would allow.
Another storyteller might have taken a cruel swipe at homeschooling. Fey didn’t take the bait.
None of this guarantees Fey would right the ideological ship that is today’s “SNL,” even if she wanted to do just that. The show’s players and writers might reject any attempt to be fair and balanced with Fey in charge.
Still, Fey has the comedic authority to throw her weight around behind the scenes and could be the person to remind the show’s creative team why it once mattered.
Fey could be the show’s last, best hope to reclaim its former glory.