The SNL creator was giving a keynote address at the Cannes Lions advertising event in France, where he also touched on the history of the show, particularly around its famous post 9/11 episode, and when he realized the show had an element of “permanence”.
Speaking to Linda Yaccarino, Chairman of Advertising & Partnerships at NBCUniversal, he said, “You couldn’t do this show now. Mostly because of budget…. The depth of costumes, design, film, all of those plus the talent office and all of the people working with each other… you can’t start that now because we’re in an age of narrowcasting.”
He said that it was always important for the NBC show, which launched in 1975, to be attractive to the whole country, rather than just playing to coastal audiences and that there are “smart” people all over the country that get the show, and that it was particularly important for political sketches to “have influence in the red states… rather than just preaching to the choir”.
When asked whether he was still wowed by the show, he remarked that the 40th anniversary show, a three and a half hour special that featured most of its previous cast and a number of former hosts, was the “culmination”.
“There was a culmination for all of us in the 40th anniversary. Everybody sort of sensed – I always thought we could get cancelled and there were two or three times when we technically were – so the idea of its permanence became solid for me at the 40th anniversary. That it was going to go on and another generation was going to take it on after I was done with it and that on some, level, for better or worse, it was an institution and in order to keep it fresh, new people come into it and define it for their generation.”
Michaels also remembered the first episode back after the terror attacks in New York on 9/11. He lauded Reese Witherspoon, who hosted the episode, which opened on September 29 with a cold open featuring Mayor Rudy Giuliani and a number of firefighters and police officers who had been at ground zero. Michaels started the show by asking Giuliani, ‘can we be funny?’ and the Mayor deadpanned ‘why start now?’.
However, Michaels confided that one of his key roles was to ensure that Giuliani would stop “grinning” in order for the joke to work. “I’m just glaring at him, do not smile. He did it perfectly on air but it was a showbusiness moment in the middle of a bigger moment,” he said.