Lorne Michaels has helmed “Saturday Night Live” for 40 years, but in the entertainment business that might as well be an eternity. So how has Michaels kept ‘SNL’ current and fresh after all these years?
One way he’s accomplished this is by having complete control over the show. Except for an absence in the early ‘80s—when the show was nearly cancelled—Michaels has been the main decision maker for the duration of SNL. Whether it’s who is chosen as a cast member, whether or not a joke works, or who gets let go, ultimately Michaels has that decision.
Saturday Night Live first aired in October 1975, becoming a shining star in the dark landscape of television at the time. Its premise was simple: a late night sketch comedy show broadcast live across the United States once a week. Expectations for the show lasting past its first season weren’t set particularly high, especially by Michaels himself. In an interview with The New York Post, he said, “At the end of the first season I’d written everything I’d wanted to write several times over. I thought of it as ‘That Championship Season.’ I didn’t know what I would do for a second season.”
But SNL survived a second season, then a third and a fourth, and last month it celebrated its 40th season on the air. An anniversary special was aired for this occasion, which brought back cast members from the last four decades.
Michaels uses a specific formula for his show, and will combat anyone who tries to change it. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Michaels describes a few instances when a guest host or the network tried to change that formula. When a network exec tried to cut music from the show, Michaels relented for a few episodes, but ultimately Lorne got his way. Another issue he’s run into is hosts trying to push the envelope of what’s appropriate, but Michaels and his crew have been through it all before, and know when something works and when it doesn’t.
Ratings for this show were the best SNL—or NBC for that matter—has seen in years. According to Variety, Nielson ratings garnered 23.1 million viewers from 8 to 11 PM for the February 15 celebration. That’s the highest number of viewers for an NBC primetime show since the Frasier finale in 2004. This is clearly a huge success for the network as well as the show, and proves that to this day SNL has remained a relevant television staple.
When asked if SNL should go on without him, Michaels—who will be 71 this year—replied, “I don’t know. I’m going to keep doing it as long as I possibly can because I love it and because it’s what I do.”
Lorne Michaels has kept SNL alive by keeping to a strict formula and maintaining control of his production by overseeing all parts of it, from casting to writing to the format of the show. Saturday Night Live is truly a Lorne Michaels production.
What will the future hold for Michaels and SNL? Do you think the show will celebrate a 50th anniversary?
– Kyle Flathers