Welcome to “Thursday Night Live,” Take 2.
NBC’s Saturday Night Live, hitting its comedic stride in a pivotal campaign year, airs the second of three Weekend Update Thursday specials tonight (9:30 ET/PT). No guest-host. No musical act. Just 22 minutes focused on the election.
So far, so successful. Last week’s special scored with 10.9 million viewers against tough Thursday competition. Besides football, it was NBC’s only broadcast to crack the top 20.
In fact, as the stakes grow more dire, comedy’s stock rises. Comedy Central’s Daily Show and Colbert Report hit record highs all month. SNL’s Saturday ratings are up by half to 8.6 million weekly. And David Letterman has netted huge Web attention for his on-air feud with John McCain, a rift that might be repaired when the candidate appears tonight.
SNL’s writers and performers are grateful for the material — and the chance to spin quickly off the news. “People are actually paying attention to (the election). They’re following it like a sport,” says Weekend Update’s Amy Poehler. “It’s satisfying to do jokes the day after the debate.”
This week will be the first in which two live shows air in little more than 48 hours. Executive producer Lorne Michaels says Thursday’s show cannibalizing Saturday’s is a concern, “but nothing can be done about it. The network felt that it was important to do these shows. You just put the most topical stuff out; this week will be problematic.”
But timeliness trumps all. “For us, sometimes timing doesn’t work out that well because if something happens on Monday, by Saturday it’s been lapped up by other news sources,” says head writer Seth Meyers. “Fresh and hot is a nice way of presenting it to the audience.”
Any effect SNL is having on the election is secondary, says Fred Armisen, who plays Barack Obama. “It’s all about how entertaining, how relevant we can be. It’s never about, ‘We’re thinking we’re going to affect the election.’ “
Monday before Election Day, a special with classic clips and new material airs. Then, the cast rests. “We have five shows in three weeks. At the end, the country will have a new president, and we’ll have a week off,” Michaels says.