Who Is Lorne Michaels?
In 1975, NBC hired Lorne Michaels to create a show to run on Saturday nights. After gathering a group of actors and writers, Michaels debuted Saturday Night Live, a sketch comedy show that has won more than 60 Emmy Awards and launched the careers of some of the biggest names in entertainment. Michaels is recognized as one of the most influential comedy producers of all time.
Lorne Michael Lipowitz was born on November 17, 1944, on a kibbutz in Israel. His family immigrated to Toronto, Canada, when he was a child. Michaels began to write fiction as a teenager. Soon after graduating from the University of Toronto, he set his sights on a career in entertainment.
Michaels partnered with fellow Canadian Hart Pomerantz and the comedy duo developed a show for the Canadian Broadcasting Co., The Hart and Lorne Terrific Hour. In 1968, Michaels moved to Los Angeles, California, to write for The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show and Laugh-In, as well as for a number of Canadian television shows.
The Origins of 'SNL'
In 1975, NBC hired the 30-year-old Michaels and a 27-year-old executive named Dick Ebersol to create a replacement for the reruns of The Tonight Show that were airing on Saturday nights. The pair developed the idea of a sketch comedy show that was filmed in front of a live audience and pulled together a group of writers and actors, nicknamed the "Not Ready for Prime Time Players," that included talents such as Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner and John Belushi.
Saturday Night Live made its debut on October 11, 1975, with comedian George Carlin appearing as the show's first host. The 1975 season featured the short films of Albert Brooks and multiple appearances by Jim Henson's Muppets.
SNL, which always ends its opening sketch with the announcement, "Live from New York! It's Saturday Night!" became a sensation. Following its first season, the series earned four Emmy Awards as well as a fanatic audience.
Influence and Reputation
In time, the show earned the reputation of a comedy institution, becoming noted for its ability to reinvent itself through a steady stream of some of the best and brightest new comedic talents. Over the years, SNL has launched some of the biggest names in comedy, including Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers, Will Ferrell, Conan O'Brien, Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey, Kristin Wiig and Amy Poehler.
Michaels left SNL in 1980 for five years until NBC's then chief of programming, Brandon Tartikoff, recruited him to return and nurse the failing show back to national prominence. Michaels returned as executive producer in 1985—a title he still holds today.
Over its decades-long run, SNL has won more than 60 Emmy Awards. At the 2004 Kennedy Center Honors, Michaels received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. In 2008, TIME magazine named him to its "100 most influential people" list. In 2012, Michaels was awarded an Individual Peabody Award. In 2016, he was named a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, presented by Barack Obama.
Michaels has a split reputation within the world that he's created. While many cast members characterize him as a paternal mentor, others find him cold and withholding. Specifically in the context of SNL auditions, Michaels is described as intimidating and cryptic, often making comedians wait for hours outside his office before speaking to them. Michaels is also known for having a full bowl of popcorn in his office, and for perpetually employing three young female assistants who have been dubbed "the Lornettes."
In 2002, Tom Shales and James Miller published Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, which includes anecdotes—both flattering and demonizing—about the executive producer from cast members and guest hosts over the years. Micheals reportedly claimed that he never read the book, and didn't intend to do so.
At times drawing criticism for the lack of diversity among the show's cast, Michaels sought improvement in that area by hiring more African-American writers and performers; one such talent, stand-up comic and actress Leslie Jones, became a hit with fans following her debut in 2014.
Prior to the start of the 2019 fall season, Michaels was praised for promoting writer Bowen Yang to series regular, making him the first Chinese American cast member in SNL history. But Michaels also suffered a misstep when it was revealed that another new hire, comic Shane Gillis, had a history of offensive language and racist comments, leading to Gillis' departure shortly afterward.
Other Producer Credits
Lorne Michaels founded his production company, Broadway Video, in 1979. The company is known for producing such shows as Kids in the Hall, as well as films based on SNL sketch acts like Wayne's World and Tommy Boy.
Additionally, Michaels is known for nurturing the talent that he discovers on SNL. He selected O'Brien, then a writer on SNL, to host Late Night in 1993 after David Letterman left NBC for CBS. Michaels served as the executive producer of Late Night and retained his position when Fallon took over the show in 2009.
Michaels also held the post of executive producer for The Tonight Show after Fallon replaced Jay Leno in 2014, and for Late Night with Seth Meyers when the former SNL head writer debuted his new show that same year.
In addition to late-night fare, Michaels has served as executive producer on projects created by Fey, including the critically acclaimed 30 Rock; former SNL cast member Fred Armisen's IFC show, Portlandia; and former SNL writer Emily Spivey's series, Up All Night.
Michaels is good friends with Paul McCartney, Paul Simon and former SNL standout Steve Martin. He was married to Rosie Schuster from 1973 to 1980, and to Susan Forristal from 1984 to 1987. In 1991, Michaels married Alice Barry, with whom he has three children.
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