Embattled “Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels acknowledged that the show this year doesn’t have a “winning team” and that he’s been given “clear orders” to make changes for next season.
Responding to a snowballing spate of criticism of the 20-year-old late-night TV institution, Michaels, in an interview, attributed some of this season’s problems to a cast and writing crew that just hasn’t meshed.
“I think there’s not a unity to the show,” he said. “I don’t think the cast has knit together, it’s not working in the way that it does when it’s a winning team.”
According to Michaels, he and Don Ohlmeyer, president of NBC’s West Coast operations, met in January. Ohlmeyer, he said, “was very clear” that he wanted changes in “SNL.”
In Wednesday’s interview, however, Michaels said he was “angry” with what he said was the personal tenor of the recent attacks in the press.
“I’m very tired of the show and my role in it being judged as if I’m a Clinton appointee,” Michaels said. “I’m not. We are a comedy show. We try and put on the funniest people we can find each year. It’s not about racial mix; it’s not about gender. It’s about trying to put together a troupe that is really talented and can both bring (their own) characters (to the show) and also perform the work of the writing staff.”
He also expressed unhappiness and surprise specifically about a couple of stories that quoted Ohlmeyer and NBC Entertainment chief Warren Littlefield making critical comments about “SNL.” Basically, they said, everything on the show was fair game for fixing, except for “Live” and “from New York,” and suggested they were going to force changes on Michaels.
While he wouldn’t elaborate, Michaels’ tone suggested he was not pleased with the threatened network intervention.
“I think Warren feels very proprietary about the show,” Michaels said. “I think he feels very proprietary about all of late night. And I think he’s had a profound effect on the ‘Tonight’ show and I think he’d like to be very involved in ‘Saturday Night Live.”’
Littlefield said Wednesday that he supported Michaels and never meant to suggest that his role with the show should be changed or was in jeopardy.
“I think even Warren would acknowledge that I’m the producer of ‘Saturday Night Live,”’ said Michaels, who dismissed any talk of his not staying at the helm of “SNL.”
He also said the season has suffered from a failure of the current cast to create new characters.
There’s been criticism of the size of the cast, and he conceded that that has added to the problems. With more members than in past seasons, it has meant less air time for everyone, which has led to some unhappiness and a lack of on-air cohesion. And because he sees this year as a transition period - Phil Hartman, Rob Schneider and Julia Sweeney left after last year; Mike Myers and Janeane Garofalo are virtually gone, off doing films, and Kevin Nealon and Ellen Cleghorne are slated to depart after this season - Michaels has been trying to build up new cast members, and that can be a tricky task.
Michaels said that next year there’ll be a smaller cast and a smaller budget.
Of all the recent criticisms, Michaels said he finds “most galling” the suggestions that there is a lack of commitment on his part.
“‘SNL’ is my first priority and has always been my first priority,” Michaels said. “If the accusation is that we’re not hungry enough, the only thing I can answer is, check us out in the fall.”