What happens to political TV when comedians are not ready for democracy
The night before the election, the cabal at NBC’s Saturday Night Live got in one last prejudiced shot at the presidential race with a nationally broadcast but awkwardly titled network program, “Saturday Night Live (SNL Election Special), November 2, 2020.”
Not much wit in that title, probably because wit has failed the program over the political and White House changes of the past few decades. SNL has become ever more partisan — which in comedic terms means obvious. Even as COVID-19 fears restricted the size of attendees invited to Studio 8H, the “live” audience responses contained more applause than laughter, more confirmation bias than mirth.
Monday night’s “Election Special” compiled several recent skits that typified the way SNL has remade itself from its mid-’70s beginning as a satirical variety show into a dubious political force. The “Election Special” brought counter-programming to the spectacular marathon of populist rallies that President Trump was barnstorming over Election Eve weekend; it was also continuous programming for NBC, part of the major network alliance that restructured its former “news” coverage into warped discourse and strategic distortion of events and issues. (The most glaring example being chirpy NBC Today Show hostess Savannah Guthrie, unleashed as a suddenly serious scold — an intemperate interruptresse — during last month’s failed ambush of the president at NBC’s “town hall.”)
SNL’s “Election Special” played to the show’s questionable new status as political commentary. While TV, print, and Internet journalism rely on opinion and analysis more than factual reporting, the old separation between corporate “news” and “entertainment” divisions has dissolved. Most odd in this development is the frequent use of SNL clips by various media outlets. The clip-show approach (borrowed from exhausted sit-com writers) isn’t real journalism but only further demonstration that most media derives from the same ideology and literally the same source, constantly replicating an already stated opinion. The Big Boys follow the repetitious outrages on social media.
Because it’s now routine for cable programs to include the latest SNL clips as political news (Fox News’s Pete Hegseth and Will Cain sometimes can be seen wincing at the obligatory nods to their competitor network), NBC’s “Election Special” felt redundant.
Yet this replay of SNL’s revue sketches proved enlightening, despite one’s instinct to dismiss the outright political bias shown by NBC and SNL producer Lorne…