The Counterculture Watch

Dillon Zhou

Humor for Saturday Night Live has for a long time been a source of problems for the various illustrious producers and actors on this iconic program. This sentiment was never truer during the past few years with the tenuous hold that SNL has been able to create on an increasingly limited demographic range within its audience. It’s fairly obvious to many viewers that the main source of problem is the “tokenism” that dominates the production process at SNL; because the American TV audience needs a solid theme to establish a structured set of guidelines for the types of skits, characters, and routine gigs that make it to the final products.

The recent series on the McCain/Palin 2008 Presidential Campaign in conjunction with the Obama/Biden Campaign was clearly a much-needed source of high-quality material for parody and political satire by a TV program mired by a bad case of writer’s block and Frankenstein-like comedy.

Viewership has never been better since Tina Fey’s impersonation as Sarah Palin at her very worst under media scrutiny. Lorne Michaels, the executive producer of SNL, was quoted saying that “I think the gods smiled on us with the Palin thing.” Indeed they were, since the episode that premiered Tina Fey as Sara Palin was the highest rated since the 9/11 attacks – which can be attributed to the other major problem, the program’s sad inability to resonate with its intended audience: the teens and young adults.

From a personal standpoint, the infamous Fey/Poehler as Palin/Hillary skit was some of the finest political humor I’ve seen in a fair amount of time on SNL or any of the other two major networks. In contrast to the often colorless or seemingly random scripts of the past five years, it reverberated within the American public on the most fundamental level. Fey and the SNL production team made the most of the lack of Governor Palin’s political lexicon and narrow-minded understanding of international relations.

A prime example lies in her now famous quote: “I can see Russia from my house!” Fey’s ability to give a hilarious parallel to the defining characteristics disseminated by the American media since Governor Palin’s surprising debut onto the national political scene in August. It all goes to a central point about the most controversial female politician of 2008: she needs to have a coherent platform and public relations repertoire. It seems apparent that her party has not provided a thorough practical crash course on this matter.

The SNL version of Fey’s portrayal of the Katie Couric interview is another picturesque caricature of her awkward political grace – which can be ascribed to her inability to avoid election buzz phrases like: “job creation, healthcare, tax relief, dollar-meal-value, and bailout” and crass statements on how “ill” the average American feels about the recently approved $700B “Bailout Bill.”

The benefits cannot be more obvious when one looks at the highly commendable ratings that this troubled TV franchise has been able to garner during this election year. According to the reports, SNL has averaged a 9.0 household rating/20 share in the metered markets, based on the raw data released by Nielsen Media Research and other similar institutes.

The most recent information indicates that the “Palin episodes” has made SNL the highest-rated program on broadcast TV during their first airdates.

So in all fairness, I think Mr. Michaels and the SNL crew owe Senator McCain and Governor Palin special thanks for making their interesting but ultimately unsuccessful run for the highest office in America. This was a refreshing change of pace for a program whose program has become dry and often off-color for the wide spectrum of viewers in America and beyond (if there are indeed any foreign fans of this show). Let there be fruit baskets and personal thanks for McCain, Palin, and the Republican campaigners! And three cheers to an entertaining campaign.