An exhaustive peek at an updated edition of Live from New York, a portrait of Saturday Night Live, reveals the intractable biases that shape the show’s comic agenda.
Washington Post television critic Tom Shales and James Miller wrote the SNL tell-all in 2002. Now, with an updated version ready for a Sept. release date, The Hollywood Reporter is offering a peek at the fresh content.
It’s all too clear why the show refuses to treat President Barack Obama like his predecessors.
Former cast member Horatio Sanz wished SNL would have hit GOP targets harder, boasts that Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin impression killed the governor’s political career and bemoaned that Will Ferrell’s take on President George W. Bush was too sympathetic.
Ferrell played Bush like a genial idiot.
Fey feared appearing with Palin during the governor’s well-received guest stint on the show might appear like an endorsement.
SNL writer Paula Pell says she planned on personally blasting Palin for her views on gay marriage on the set of the show which invited her to appear. Pell admits she chickened out but made sure to call Palin “ridiculous” while recalling the incident to the authors.
Sanz says veteran SNL scribe Jim Downey serves as the show’s “Karl Rove” figure, as if that meant the show offered a semblance of ideological balance. This is the same Downey who calls himself in the book a conservative Democrat and once labeled Sean Hannity the dumbest person on TV … ever.
And how does Downey see Obama as a comedic target? Let’s let him paint the picture:
If I had to describe Obama as a comedy project, I would say, “Degree of difficulty, 10 point 10.” It’s like being a rock climber looking up at a thousand-foot-high face of solid obsidian, polished and oiled. There’s not a single thing to grab onto — certainly not a flaw or hook that you can caricature. [Al] Gore had these “handles,” so did Bush, and Sarah Palin, and even Hillary had them. But with Obama, it was the phenomenon — less about him and more about the effect he had on other people and the way he changed their behavior. So that’s the way I wrote him.
The president’s own press secretary couldn’t fawn any harder.
Downey, to his credit, acknowledges both how SNL utterly failed in to live up to creator Lorne Michaels’ quest for political neutrality in recent years as well as how a nationally telecast humor show helps Democrats.
But I have to say, and even [former SNL writer/performer] Franken agrees with me — I’ve talked to him about this — that 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.