New York's late-night mainstay Saturday Night Live will mark its return to NBC this weekend, and executive producer Lorne Michaels says the show's season premiere will acknowledge the September 11 terrorist attacks.
But with the nation still recovering, don't expect any sketches with Will Ferrell squinting and bumbling his way through a President Bush impression or any goofball airport metal-detector scenes.
Instead, Michaels says Saturday's show will be as timely and emotionally sensitive as possible--while still being funny.
"We'll try to reflect what the country is thinking and feeling at that moment on the night of September 29," Michaels told the New York Daily News Wednesday, after castmembers and writers stayed up most of the night to prepare for Saturday's show. "Hopefully we will go on and our comedy and music will provide a release for people."
So far, this much is known: Legally Blonde star Reese Witherspoon is hosting, and she will likely make a somber opening statement. The suddenly omnipresent R&B sensation Alicia Keys (who also performed on last Friday's all-star telethon in addition to the recent MTV Video Music Awards and Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards) is musical guest.
Not-ready-for-prime-time player Ana Gasteyer told the Rosie O'Donnell Show Thursday that, depending on his busy schedule, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani also may make a guest appearance.
"It's hard. We've obviously had a lot of conversations about it," said Gasteyer, when asked about returning to SNL's New York studio. "We stayed up all night writing...But there are lots of things that just aren't funny. They aren't funny to us, either."
Then there are the logistical issues, such as whether the show will actually air. Michaels says that, given the recent events, he wouldn't be surprised if the show is preempted by breaking news coverage. NBC, meanwhile, had to hire a private jet to fly Witherspoon from Los Angeles to New York for this week's show.
Inside.com reports that just one guest host has bailed out on the show since September 11. Ben Stiller was set to host next week's show, but he has now backed out and will be replaced by Seann William Scott. Drew Barrymore will host this season's third show.
Michaels says this week's scripts and sketches will likely go through changes as Saturday nears. Producers are nixing anything that might be deemed inappropriate, and writers are being especially careful about how to spin SNL's news parody, Weekend Update.
Of course, they could always take a cue from satirical newspaper The Onion, which returned this week with its first edition since the terrorist attacks. Among the headlines: "Hijackers Surprised to Find Selves in Hell," and "Dinty Moore Breaks Long Silence On Terrorism With Full-Page Ad."
For more humor tips, Website ModernHumorist.com released its own list of comedy rules writers should now follow. For instance, "Until further notice, all violent humor is to be replaced by sexist humor," and "No comedy is to be directed at countries with valuable airspace."