Barack Obama might not be president today if Hillary Clinton hadn’t been so smug seven years ago.
That’s one of the more depressing lessons out of a new edition of “Live from New York,” an oral history of the late-night institution by James Andrew Miller and Washington Post television critic Tom Shales that tells the inside story of the show from the first decade of the 21st century.
Another is that even when he was still a candidate, Obama had a kind of veto power over what some Americans were seeing on their television screens when it comes to threats from Islamic terrorists.
And millions of Americans might not think comic Tina Fey really is Sarah Palin.
According to excerpts published in the Aug. 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine, Hillary Clinton’s campaign had lobbied for the then-candidate to land SNL’s coveted guest host spot for the show’s season opener in 2007, when the former first lady was still favored to win the 2008 Democratic nomination.
The very week of production, though, Hillary’s campaign canceled, leaving a spot open for the junior senator from Illinois, Executive Producer Lorne Michaels recalls in the excerpt.
“And then, after that, we put Obama on the date when Hillary was supposed to be on,” he said. “The sense of entitlement which was following her everywhere at that point peaked for me at the bailing.”
In another passage, one writer recalls how Michaels appealed for then-candidate Obama’s help in calming down NBC network execs nervous about a sketch that could have been offensive to Arabs. Obama was doing a cameo on the show, and the writer hoped the Obama seal of approval calm the network’s nerves.
The result? “Obama said, ‘It’s funny, but no, I don’t think so.”
Obama’s influence on the show didn’t end there, as the excerpt makes clear. And the worlds of comedy and politics are worse off for it.
As writer-producer James Downey, who retired in 2013, puts it:
“The last couple seasons of the show were the only two in the show’s history where we were totally like every other comedy show: basically, an arm of the Hollywood Democratic establishment. [Jon] Stewart was more nuanced. We just stopped doing anything which could even be misinterpreted as a criticism of Obama.”
As to the famous impersonations of GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin and Palin’s eventual appearance on the show, Michaels said Fey was “terrified of anything where they would be together looking like an endorsement.”
SNL endorsing a Republican even by implication? She needn’t have worried.
No one who watched the show — or reads this excerpts — will make that mistake.
And that’s no joke.
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