“Presidential Reunion”; Or Will Funny or Die Kill ‘SNL’?

By now you’ve all seen this Funny or Die sketch (because it was uploaded almost a week ago, which this day in age classifies it as old) that brings together the all time team of SNL presidential imitators.  It’s great, right?  Totally awesome (especially Chevy, doing what Chevy does best).

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However, what concerns me is what this video, and videos of its ilk, means to SNL.  Why I am so concerned about a show that has basically been skating by since 1993, if not earlier, and has never really faced any real competition, I don’t know (and no, MADtv doesn’t count).  But the more I see the Funny or Die videos featuring both SNL and non-SNL talent I wonder how long the show will be able to compete (especially now that Funny or Die has its own show on HBO, although the one episode I saw was rather underwhelming).  And this Presidential Reunion, directed by Hollywood heavyweight Ron Howard, really caused me pause.

First, how does Lorne Michaels feel about this?  With the exception of  Carrey as Ronald Reagan,* all these Presidential impersonations originated and came to prominence on Saturday Night Live.  Did they need to get Michaels’ permission to use the characters?  I guess the question is what is the policy regarding characters and impersonations first performed on SNL.  I would assume that SNL holds some rights to their usage.  But I can easily imagine that for the opportunity to do something fun and special and meaningful like this sketch to raise awareness about consumer financial protection that Michaels would provide his blessing (then again, he’s Canadian, so what does he care?  Also, why not just bring all that talent to NY and perform this bit as a cold open?)

But beyond the question of what’s the policy on Funny or Die (or any other comedy website) featuring these characters, there’s the simple fact of an increasing number of web videos including SNL talent in completely original pieces.  For example, Fred Armisen in this Intervention parody:

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Where do they draw the line as to what will be an original video for the web or what will be an SNL Digital Short (or does Andy Samberg and his Lonely Island team control all the Digital Short content?)  How much leeway does the SNL cast get to produce material outside the show? (sorry, lots of questions, few answers).  Conversely, will we see an influx of videos created separately from SNL appropriated for show use (in the way that, perhaps, this Noah Baumbach short film was included last season)?

And speaking of the SNL Digital Shorts, SNL has done a pretty good job competing with sites like Funny or Die with their own digital videos, which are frequently the highlight of the show, and almost certainly the most buzzworthy.  In a New Yorker-sponsored discussion last week with Michaels and  head writer Seth Meyers, Myers said that SNL has always been a show engineered to create viral videos, just that the infrastructure wasn’t there to support it (can’t find the actual quote, but you can listen to the audio transcript).  And right now, the show is definitely exploiting the new media platforms, most prominently with Hulu and NBC.com.  However, with sites like Funny or Die not only providing a new outlet to SNL talent, but to anyone with a camera and a laptop, as time goes on will SNL continue to be able to compete?  I don’t think SNL will go away; it’s too much of an institution, and as long as Lorne Michaels wants to keep producing it will roll on unencumbered.  But as more and more comedy finds a home on the web, I think the show will become even less relevant.  John Hamm will still host, but whereas before SNL might have been the only place were he could play in the comedy sandbox, now he can put on a bald cap and play Lex Luthor whenever the mood strikes.

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So yes, the web has finally caught up to SNL.  But how long before it surpasses the show?

And for good measure, because he should have been in the reunion, here’s Phil Hartman as President Reagan:

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*But while Carrey might have cut his shops on In Living Color, I still contend he hosted one of the strongest SNLs of the 90s, if not of all time, so he’s an acceptable substitute.

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Filed under Analysis, Good Humor, Saturday Night Live, Virulent

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