Making SNL Relevant Again

by The Cowl Editor on February 16, 2017

Arts & Entertainment

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By Joe Clancy `18


A lot has happened in President Trump’s first 100 days; executive orders and protests seem to dominate the news reel every day. One unprecedented change, however, is the surging popularity of Saturday Night Live (SNL).

With Alec Baldwin playing President Trump and Melissa McCarthy as the White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, satirical impersonations of the new administration have propelled Saturday Night Live to its most popular season in over 20 years.

Since the beginning of this season, SNL has averaged a viewership of 10.64 million, numbers the show has not achieved since 1994. This past Saturday’s episode recorded 10.8 million viewers, which was its most watched episode since January  8, 2011.

One of the most impressive feats this season is SNL’s rating among adults under 50. Including DVR replays, this season’s ratings are up 20 percent from last season—a statistic that starkly counters the notion the show is failing.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Political Analyst Larry Sabato said SNL’s recent success can be explained through its role as an outlet. “People who hate Trump need to gather together,” he said. “Sometimes it’s in the streets and sometimes it’s watching a show like ‘Saturday Night Live.’” Unlike angry Facebook posts or Tweets, Sabato says outlets like the sketch-comedy show are “a kind of Pepto-Bismol for the bile that’s building all week long.”

SNL, the 1975 brain child of Lorne Michaels, is no stranger to the political scene. It has proven to be popular around the water cooler every Monday morning since its founding, especially during election seasons. The show has even been credited with the “Saturday Night Effect,” the electoral influence attributed to the show’s political coverage. This influence became even more evident in the 2008 election when SNL heavily satirized the then Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Due to Tina Fey’s impression of Palin, “I can see Russia from my house” was widely attributed to the VP candidate even though she never said it.

The current season seems to be just as impactful, having even caught the attention of President Trump himself. In reaction to portrayals of himself and his administration, the President has recurrently tweeted severe criticisms of the show. President Trump has called SNL “really bad television,” “not funny,” and Baldwin’s impersonation of him “unwatchable.”

For some, the heavy political satire in this season of SNL exemplifies its comedic genius, whereas others think the show is picking low hanging fruit. Regardless of how the satire is received, however, one thing is indisputable: it’s working.