Live from the W, It’s Tuesday

(Seth Meyers, David Remnick, Lorne Michaels, and Ken Auletta, smiling like an Errol Flynn villain. Credit: Joseph Moran.)

Last night, we joined a roomful of media writers, TV producers, and other assorted characters for a discussion at the W in Union Square between Ken Auletta and Lorne Michaels and Seth Meyers of “Saturday Night Live.” The event was sponsored by Syracuse’s Newhouse School with The New Yorker and Conde Nast.

Auletta asked Michaels for his thoughts on the way things went down for NBC’s late-night, and Michaels struggled a bit at first. “We’re all here together, but I have to go back there,” he joked. He admitted that Leno’s show was “not necessarily the best lead-in” for Conan O’Brien and said that O’Brien faced severe criticism and defeat when he first started in late night, but “with amazing character and strength he prevailed, and I’m sure he will again.”

Meyers described it like this: “You can’t tell someone that in five years I’m going to divorce you, but we’ll stay married until then.”

Michaels admitted that the way they approach the show is constantly changing. “The velocity of things is different now. You need less,” he said, adding, “Undivided attention is a nice concept, but I’m not sure it exists.” At the same time, Meyers points out that SNL is made a smooth digital transition, calling it “a show for the internet before the internet…it’s made up of five minute clips people can watch.”

Eventually, the conversation turned to politics, and Michaels insisted, “We try very hard not to be partisan. Whoever you are we’re against it.” Meyers said getting across a point of view is not a priority, “You try so hard to be funny, you just worry about that.”

Michaels said that when Sarah Palin was on she was “incredibly gracious,” “extremely likeable,” and “clearly a star.” In regards to those famous political sketches, he said, “We deal in the world of perception. It’s not real.”

If you’re one of those people who thinks SNL’s not as funny as it used to be, you’re not alone. Michaels says, “[People say,] ‘You know what the great period was?’ It’s almost always when they were in high school.” He said that’s the time when “people bond with the cast.”