The "SNL" Fall Campaign

The show premieres Saturday with high expectations of duplicating the political humor magic of 2008 when Tina Fey channeled Sarah Palin.

By Jere Hester
|  Friday, Sep 14, 2012  |  Updated 11:34 AM PDT
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Saturday Night Live's Jason Sudeikis as Mitt Romney.

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Four years ago this week, "Saturday Night Live" kicked off its 34th season premiere with what quickly became a classic opener: a "non-partisan message" with Amy Poehler playing Hillary Clinton and Tina Fey channeling her doppelganger Sarah Palin.

“I believe that diplomacy should be the cornerstone of any foreign policy,” said Clinton/Poehler.

"And I can see Russia from my house," added Palin/Fey.

The memorable bit set the stage for seven weeks of some of the strongest political humor in the satirical show's storied history. The 5 ½-minute sketch also immediately reclaimed any summer ground “SNL” ceded to "Weekend Update" progeny like "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report," which enjoy the advantage of year-round weeknight shows.

On Saturday, "SNL" begins its 38th season and again enters its latest fall campaign ready to make up for lost time as the presidential race – and comedy race – enters the homestretch.

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are coming off strong convention-driven shows, the other late-night hosts are cracking wise about the campaign and the Internet is proving an increasingly potent forum for political humor. And now, after a four-month layoff, “SNL” is back too– and, as in 2008, planning some Thursday night primetime “Weekend Update” specials featuring quick-witted head writer Seth Meyers leading up to the election.

The show returns without the solid Abby Elliot, viral video king Andy Samberg and irreplaceable comedic character queen Kristen Wiig. But some new players have been enlisted and the show is getting a new President Obama: ace impressionist Jay Pharoah will replace Fred Armisen in the role to "shake it up," producer Lorne Michaels told The New York Times. Also, budding movie star Jason Sudeikis (“Horrible Bosses,” “Hall Pass”) will stick around until at least January to maintain his dominance of the Joe Biden and Mitt Romney impersonation game, Michaels told The Times.

"SNL" remains not just a prime political comedy battleground for entertainers, but for candidates – dating from then-President Gerald Ford’s taped cameo in 1976 to John McCain and Palin’s live appearance shortly before the 2008 election.

As we’ve noted, the importance – or perceived importance – of the campaign comedy circuit only has grown in this presidential election cycle. Romney, who showed good humor reading a “Top 10 Things Mitt Romney Would Like to Say to the American People” list on “Late Show With David Letterman” in December, reportedly has been invited on “SNL.” It’s a fair bet that President Obama – no stranger to entertainment shows during his term, most famously visiting Jimmy Fallon to "slow jam" the news in April – would be welcome to go live from New York.
 

Revisit the Palin-Clinton sketch below as we await Saturday's season opener, set to be hosted by "Family Guy" and "Ted" creator Seth MacFarlane, an irreverent political comedy wit himself:

 

 

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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