In Depth

NBC: ‘SNL’ Political Satire, 2008

It’s likely that as many people followed the 2008 election campaign through “Saturday Night Live” as did by watching the evening news, cable channels or any other television outlet.

Whether it was guest star Tina Fey’s dead-on impression of vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin or the real Sen. Hillary Clinton rubbing shoulders with Amy Poehler’s Sen. Clinton, “Saturday Night Live’s” take on politics was both hilarious and newsworthy.

The Peabody Awards is honoring NBC’s late-night comedy series in recognition of its political satire, noting that the show may have even swayed the election.

For a show as topical as “SNL,” it was logical that the 2008 elections would be a prime target of its comedy. But with the disruption of the 2007-08 writers strike, “SNL” had to short-circuit the primary season and then restart its work after the party conventions. It was a tough task that actually invigorated the show.

“We were on with Obama in November (2007), and then we were off till February,” said “SNL” executive producer Lorne Michaels. “It was incredibly frustrating.”

Mr. Michaels’ frustration fueled the writers, who sharpened their satire. “When we came back on the air we sort of just exploded,” said Mr. Michaels. “Tina (Fey) did the first show back. It was the one where she dealt with Hillary Clinton versus Obama, and that reverberated and obviously hit a nerve, and then from that point on, we really never looked back.”

While America spent the spring and summer focusing on Sen. Barack Obama versus Sen. John McCain, “SNL” was gearing up for the two months before the election, September and October. “The crowning moment for us was when we came back on after the Republican Convention, when Sarah Palin was chosen as McCain’s running mate,” said Mr. Michaels.

Ms. Fey’s resemblance to Gov. Palin was remarkable. “It was fortuitous, but it was also as if the audience voted. It was one of those things where people I didn’t know were e-mailing me to say, ‘Wow, what a break. That’s so Tina Fey,’” said Mr. Michaels. “And Tina was hard at work on ‘30 Rock,’ she had no time, and we talked about it and it was like, look, the audience voted. They were going to be disappointed if she was not ‘SNL’s’ Sarah Palin.”