Why Does Michaels Keep Returning to ‘SNL’?


Another season of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live”--its 22nd--is coming to a close.

Want to go for 23?

Lorne Michaels is ready if you are.

“Why” is another question--one that seems fair to ask the 52-year-old creator of “SNL,” a man who for 17 seasons (1975 to 1980 and 1985 to the present) has served as executive producer, writer, father figure and occasional player.

Michaels admits he has asked himself “why?” many times over the years--years of “going from blank page to on-the-air in six days.”

But this is heady air, live air--invigorating and exhausting--taken in on a stage like no other in television.


“Let me try to answer as honestly as I can,” Michaels says during a chat in his office.

“I love doing the show,” he says. “I like the process and I have a better perspective on it than when I was at the center of it in the ‘70s, when I lived and died every moment and felt every sort of bump in the road.”

The older he got, Michaels says, “the more I was able to get some perspective on it and know when to worry and when not to worry.”

Michaels--who launched the show in NBC’s Studio 8H on Oct. 11, 1975, with the now legendary cast of Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman and Jane Curtin--has seen the audiences, the casts and the cycles of critical embrace and rejection come and go too many times to fall apart now.

He has weathered the competition (including Roseanne) and endured the nostalgic cries of baby boomers who watch “Best of” compilations and complain that this year’s “SNL”--for that matter, any year’s “SNL”--”isn’t as good as it used to be.” He has even stepped away, parting company with the show for five years, after which he watched his creation come perilously close to extinction.

But “Saturday Night Live” is not dead. If anything, its pulse--as ratings climb and critics grow fonder--is quickening.

Rick Ludwin--NBC Entertainment senior vice president for specials, variety programs and late night--says: “It’s just too valuable a franchise to give up,” and compares it in that respect to the “Tonight” show.


Cancellation, says Ludwin, simply is not an option.