Q&A: SNL's Lorne Michaels

Coming off big years for 'SNL' and '30 Rock', Lorne Michaels is adding Jimmy Fallon to his already-full plate

It's been a stellar 2008 for Lorne Michaels, even by his own standards. The year may have gotten off to a bad start with the writers' strike, but soon after Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were providing the script. Politics propelled Michaels' Saturday Night Live back into the white-hot center of American pop culture for the first time in years.

While a skit about the media's pandering to Obama may have actually affected how the candidates were covered, the most memorable SNL bits came after John McCain selected a Tina Fey look-alike as a running mate and basically gifted Michaels a massive amount of buzz.

Fey's eerily spot-on rendition of vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was everywhere, leading to Palin herself eventually making an appearance on the show. Then just ahead of Election Day, Sen. John McCain and wife Cindy appeared, poking fun at their own expensive lifestyle.

SNL provided sweet relief from the drumbeat of the presidential campaign, and a combination of SNL's momentum and NBC's primetime challenges led the network to give the show a series of specials that further boosted its audience.

As if that weren't enough, Michaels' other baby, 30 Rock, continued to rack up critical acclaim as perhaps the smartest and funniest show on television that most people aren't watching, not to mention a couple more Emmys for the trophy case.

For his latest trick, Michaels is preparing another SNL protégé, Jimmy Fallon, as a late-night host. He'll be populating the NBC late-night airwaves once more as Conan O'Brien's replacement at 12:35 next fall.

With all that, and while on his way to see the Clint Eastwood movie Gran Torino, Michaels took a moment to chat with B&C's Claire Atkinson about a year of exhilaration amidst economic recession.

You were named one of Time magazine's 100 most important people of 2008, Saturday Night Live has never been hotter, you produced primetime specials and 30 Rock is the funniest comedy on TV. Is this your best year ever?

In many ways it was. It began with being off for the writers' strike and then coming on for the primaries. It was exhilarating coming out for the conventions with Tina Fey and Sarah Palin coming on, and then culminating with John McCain coming on the Saturday before the election.

There were times [it was tough]—because it was the first time in a long, long time we were pulled off air [for the strike]. It's important to remember how much you miss something; there was a level of frustration.

Saturday Night Live took its lumps a few years back with budget cuts. How does that budget look now?

We were so far ahead of this recession, we were cutting three years ago [he laughs]. We had enough foresight to cut then. It is always difficult to lose senior people and when you can't do the things you want to do. But this year, we did 22 episodes and three in primetime.

So, does your budget look better this year?

No, it was cut.

Any ideas for hosts in 2009? Is there an ideal host?

We're always of the moment. Will Ferrell is doing a live show in May. But it doesn't do any good to talk about it [guest bookings] because you never know.

What are your thoughts on the new Jay Leno show at 10 p.m. on NBC?

I think its going to be great. It eliminates the problem of something we worked with going against Conan.

How does Jay Leno's show have to change in that hour?

Change? All he has to dois show up. He's a nationalinstitution.

Should Fox and ABC do more late-night comedy?

More comedy? Who am I to talk? I work for NBC.

You have the new online Webisodes easing Jimmy Fallon into his hosting gig as Conan's replacement. How hands-on are you with that?

We were just in a meeting about it. I think it's going to do well. He's getting great feedback on the Webisodes. I think it's a good discipline because we don't post until 12:30 a.m.