In its 34th season last year, SNL went mainstream — super mainstream. Thanks to Tina Fey‘s uncanny resemblance to Sarah Palin — a Vice-Presidential candidate who revealed herself to be a headline machine in one of the most riveting election seasons in U.S. history — SNL hit its stride with viral video after viral video, which skyrocketed it out of the realm of late-night ratings and onto daytime computer screens across the nation (and newscasts, and 24-hour cable shows, and The View, etc. etc. etc.) Finally figuring out how to make videos embeddable and loosening the next-day pickup sphincter helped, too. At long last, the choruses of “SNL sucks! I never watch it!” were quelled.
Fast forward a year. Tonight SNL premieres its 35th season (well, if you don’t count the last two Thursdays). Times are tougher than ever for network television — Tivo is king, appointment television is scarcer than ever, Jay Leno has brought comedy to 10 pm. Okay, maybe not that last thing. The point is, SNL is premiering tonight in a non-election year — and expectations are high. How can it possibly meet them?
Two words: Megan Fox.
Actually, I’m not really joking. SNL’s bread and butter is in buzz — picking great hosts and bands to encourage people to tune in. See above re: appointment television. In the Internet Age, they now also have to worry about next-day pickup. So who better to kick off the season than the Internet’s favorite pin-up girl? She’s already making the video rounds with her appearance on Jimmy Fallon, her SNL promos and Thursday Update cameo, and her recent headline-grabbing comments about her vagina. (This girl is a media superstar for a reason.)
She already showed herself to be game and a good sport on Thursday, and it made next-day news — whatever happens with the ratings tonight, SNL only needs one or two knockout skits to burn up the internet the next day.
But it does need them. It needs them because in its 35th year, SNL has never had more competition horning in on their beat. There’s Jon Stewart (who just beat them for an Emmy!) and Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel (“F**ing Matt Damon,” anyone?) and Jimmy Fallon (darling of the Internerds) and even Leno (he’s got five days a week to come up with something). So SNL needs to be memorable and fresh and funny (think: the Ahmedinejad “Iran So Far” spoof or Amy Poehler‘s pregnant Palin Rap).
Note that neither of these skits mentioned featured a guest host — the blockbusters often don’t, and that’s as it should be. The SNL regulars and writers are there because they’re damned talented, and it’s their job to create memorable, hilarious moments to make the whole show good (or at least until Update). Jason Sudeikis‘ send-up of Glenn Beck is already a hit, and strong supporting characters like Bill Hader‘s impression of James Carville or really anything by Kristen Wiig will keep the chattering online classes buzzing the next day (we all need something to post, right? Thanks for the traffic, SNL!).
But the guest hosts are there to create that spark of excitement, that unique OMG moment that will instantly set Twitter ablaze. SNL needs that. It’s the catalyst for everything else. Because fundamentally SNL is not just about comedy, it’s about Zeitgeist. So they’d damn well better tap into it.
Megan Fox, you’re on.
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