“Saturday Night Live” and the Trump era

“Comedy is very powerful,” SNL creator Lorne Michaels told 60 Minutes in 2004. “And there’s no protection against it.”

“The People’s Court” was the latest Saturday Night Live skit for Alec Baldwin in his role as President Donald Trump. Arguing on behalf of his immigration order, Baldwin’s Trump faced a tough judge, who warned him: “First of all, Mr. Trump, you understand this is a TV court, right?”

“That’s OK. I’m a TV president,” the actor replied.

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Alec Baldwin as President Donald Trump on “Saturday Night Live.” 

NBC/Broadway Video

An estimated 10.8 million viewers tuned into that episode of “Saturday Night Live,” making it the show’s most-watched telecast in six years, and contradicting President Trump’s repeated claims that the NBC show is “failing.”

In fact, it’s thriving, with its most popular sketches routinely pegged to the political news cycle. This week alone, The Washington Post covered Trump’s disapproval of Melissa McCarthy’s impression of press secretary Sean Spicer, and there was also outrage over Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, being portrayed as the Grim Reaper.

“Comedy is very powerful. And there’s no protection against it. Comedy is the thing that comes from an openness and a freedom.” SNL creator Lorne Michaels

When two Democratic senators chided Trump over his handling of a global security issue while at his Mar-a-Lago club, their statement said: “This is America’s foreign policy, not this week’s episode of ‘Saturday Night Live’.”

Every American president since Richard Nixon has felt the sting of SNL’s satire, but Trump has hit back the hardest, using Twitter to critique the show. It’s new territory for SNL -- and the American public -- when the U.S. president is its loudest critic.

In 2004, during the George W. Bush administration, SNL creator Lorne Michaels told 60 Minutes that he’d never been pressured, directly or indirectly, by a presidential administration to back off. And, Lesley Stahl’s report, “Live from New York,” examined the show’s long history of lampooning authority.

“Comedy is very powerful,” Michaels told Stahl in the 2004 interview. “And there’s no protection against it. Comedy is the thing that comes from an openness and a freedom.”

“Because you can make fun of the president,” Stahl said.

“And get paid for it,” Michaels replied.