Lorne Michaels Reveals How SNL Had To Scramble After Donald Trump Tested Positive For COVID-19

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By just about all measures, SNL's 46th season may very well be the most complicated season for the cast members and writers to put together, given all things related to the pandemic and the upcoming presidential election. The long-running sketch comedy has jumped through a few hoops to fill its audience seats, and has already taken on some major rapid-fire change-ups going into the weekend tapings. For example, creator Lorne Michaels explained how President Donald Trump's recent COVID-19 diagnosis really threw a creative wrench into the works for Saturday Night Live's season premiere.

With Jim Carrey's then-brand-new impression of Joe Biden on the docket, SNL was already locked in with its primetime debate angle for the premiere when the news went wide that Donald Trump had tested positive for COVID-19. Lorne Michaels explained to Willie Geist from NBC's Today how that development pulled the rug out from under the Saturday Night Live squad, saying:

We had that (presidential) debate on Tuesday, and then on Friday when the president tested positive, it all changed. And it was being rewritten. I don't think the final version of it got to dress rehearsal. The script changes hadn't gotten into the control room and onto the cards. And so they just sort of rolled with it. But everybody did remarkably well, and I don't think most of it was noticed at home.

At this point, many TV viewers are already aware that Saturday Night Live's creative team works on a schedule that's vastly different from most others in Hollywood (or New York City in this case). It's obviously the kind of show where last-second headlines about celebrity scandals and box office blockbusters can and do inspire random one-liners. But obviously a sitting president contracting the most headline-worthy virus on the planet is a unique situation all on its own, especially for a show that has leaned so heavily (for better or worse) on Alec Baldwin's Trump impressions.

It's wild to hear that some of the particular lines centering around Donald Trump's COVID-19 diagnosis were written in at a point in the process where they didn't even officially get transcribed onto the cue cards. That kind of detail could easily have sent the debate sketch into turmoil had Alec Baldwin, Jim Carrey and others not been fully in tune with the new developments. But as far as viewers could tell, SNL was running on all of its usual cylinders that night without many obvious hiccups coming to light.

Lorne Michaels talked a little more about how Donald Trump keeps the Saturday Night Live writers on their toes when the show is in season. In his words:

Because (Trump) tweets, he can change the dialogue. And he knows that, obviously. So it's a very effective weapon. Now it's beginning to bite a little bit because it seems more impulsive. And so it's harder to make sense. . . . And most often, we don't even attempt until Friday. We've been doing the debates or anything political Friday night. Fortunately the cast are good at it and can adapt.

SNL's producers also had to make a quick off-the-cuff decision with another episode recently following viral reports of country music star Morgan Wallen publicly partying without a mask and making out with random people. Wallen was set up to be the musical guest for the October 10 episode, but he was dropped after video evidence surfaced, and eventually replaced by SNL vet Jack White.

With many viewers already growing weary of Jim Carrey's Joe Biden, SNL airs Saturday nights on NBC at 11:35 p.m. ET, so be sure to keep watching to see what developments come up next. And while waiting for new episodes, be sure to keep current with our Fall TV 2020 premiere schedule to see all the new and returning shows that are on the way.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.