Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Lorne Michaels Owns the Night!

“The longer you’re on, the longer you’re on.” That's a mantra that uber-producer Lorne Michaels repeated to Conan O'Brien during the once-Late Night host's rocky early goings way back in 1993. But it's also a statement that could just as easily apply to the man himself. Having shepherded NBC warhorse Saturday Night Live for thirty-four of its thirty-nine seasons, Michaels knows a little something about the creation, care and maintenance of long-running institutions.

When Jimmy Fallon begins his stewardship of The Tonight Show on February 17, and Seth Myers locks in as the new face of Late Night on February 24, executive producer Michaels will own almost every piece of late night real estate on NBC. Given the sheer volume of his years in the production trenches, I'm always interested when Michaels has anything to say about anything, and in an expansive conversation with The Vulture, he offers plenty of nuggets from that accrued wisdom. Check out some highlights after the jump:

Managing Saturday Night Live as compared to his other "extra-curricular" gigs:
SNL is the center and the thing that makes me happiest. Having produced Late Night With Conan O’Brien and then Jimmy and 30 Rock with Tina Fey, here’s how I’d put it: I’ve never done one of those things with someone that I thought needed me to hover over them. I know they’re good enough that I can tiptoe out of the room and just be there if they need me, and they won’t feel bad and I won’t feel guilty.
Why Fallon is good for Tonight:
Like Carson, he wants you to be comfortable on his show. He’s looking for how to get the best out of you. He’s not looking to score off some mistake you’ve made or you misspoke. I think that’s why people relax on his show and enjoy him.
On changing times and changing expectations for SNL:
If a culture doesn’t allow you to laugh at the leaders or at things that your eyes and ears tell you are actually happening, that’s not good. I do get into trouble every now and then, because we’re at that level where we’re being defined as if we’re a government institution. Like with the diversity thing.
On whether he could have protected Conan if he'd been retained as EP during O'Brien's brief Tonight tenure:
We’ll never know.
What he tells his castmembers who say they want to move on (this is just good advice for life, I'd say):
The advice I give most often is, build a bridge to the next thing. When it’s solid enough, walk across it.
And a corollary to that:
...talented people tend to move on and less talented people tend to be the most loyal. It’s rare that you find both.
That's just a small sampling. Lots more to be found, including what he considers his worst hosting experience, what he thinks of current comedy competitors, and whether The Tonight Show will be around in thirty years. Read it all here.

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