November 3, 2008

Late-Night Comedy is Election Winner

By Donna Freydkin

As Election Day looms, late-night comedy shows are wrapping up their campaign coverage in high style.

Though Republican candidate John McCain's turn last weekend on NBC's Saturday Night Live doesn't look to surpass running mate Sarah Palin's 15 million audience two weeks ago, it's the second-highest-rated episode in 11 years in preliminary Nielsen figures. (Final numbers are due Thursday.)

But McCain, unlike Palin, was fully involved in the comedy. He hawked QVC souvenirs alongside Tina Fey's Palin in the opening sketch, including commemorative plates and knives, "Joe" action figures and "fine-gold" jewelry with the help of wife Cindy.

And in the Weekend Update segment, he floated potential last-minute strategies such as the "double maverick, where I'd go totally berserk and freak everybody out, even the regular mavericks."

"For the last eight months everyone's been completely -- I won't say obsessed -- but fascinated by (the election). Every little turn is reported," says SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels. "We just caught the break that the country has been this focused. We were in perfect harmony with the audience. Interest has never waned."

Tonight, NBC airs its two-hour taped Saturday Night Live Presidential Bash (9 ET/PT), featuring skits from stars including Amy Poehler and Jason Sudeikis, as well as classic clips from past campaigns.

Then Tuesday, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert co-anchor Comedy Central's hour-long election night special, Indecision 2008 (10 ET/PT). "We're going to have our election spooktacular -- it's the scariest election of all time," Colbert says.

A visit from Democrat Barack Obama helped Stewart's Daily Show earn its highest ratings, 3.6 million viewers, last week. The Colbert Report followed with a record 2.4 million of its own as Colbert's conservative screen persona shockingly endorsed Obama. October was the most-watched month ever for both.

"It's most fun when there's a single story that the audience knows about and cares about," Colbert says. "I want this thing to come to a head. At this point, I want the election to happen."

The halo extends beyond the shows. Comedy Central posted its highest prime-time viewership in October; Fey's numerous Palin appearances helped kick off Season 3 of her Emmy-winning sitcom, 30 Rock, with a record high 8.5 million viewers Thursday.

And after the election? No matter who ends up in the White House, Colbert and Colbert are ready to mock. "Whatever's happening, we respond to," he says. (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>