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Betty White Shines on 'SNL' Debut

Betty White

May 4: In this publicity image released by NBC, cast member Kristen Wiig,left, and Betty White are shown on the set of "Saturday Night Live." (AP)

NEW YORK -- Betty White demonstrated how it's done as host of this week's "Saturday Night Live."

Drawing on her six decades in comedy, she was the consummate pro at 88 years old -- sweet, sassy, salty, charming and clearly game for anything.

"I'm not new to live TV," she reminded the audience at the top of the show, and recalled that she had starred in a sitcom that aired live back in 1952.

"Of course, back then, we didn't WANT to do it live. We just didn't know how to tape things." A perfectly timed beat. "I don't know what THIS show's excuse is."

Billed by NBC as a special Mother's Day edition, the show had a definitely feminine tone and was a reunion of sorts for "SNL" alumnae, bringing back former regulars including Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon. (Jay-Z was musical guest.)

But White was the queen bee, appearing in nearly every bit throughout the 90-minute span -- and never failing to punch it up.

As a dotty resident being surveyed by census-taker Fey, White listed other residents in her apartment as Fluffy, Princess, Tigger and Socks.

"These are people we're talking about and not cats, right?" asked the wary Fey.

"There's really no way of knowing," came the reply. "Sometimes when I see their big eyes looking up from my lap, I think that's definitely a homeless guy in a fur coat."

White played the star of a new "CSI" spinoff set in a Florida retirement community, "CSI: Sarasota."

As an investigator (identified as David Caruso's great-aunt), she wasn't buying the story that the victim had died of natural causes.

"Oh, really," she scoffed. "Since when does a 103-year-old man simply drop dead?"

She appeared in three "MacGruber" sketches as the grandmother of the bumbling special-op agent played by Will Forte, each time nagging and berating him as he tried (unsuccessfully, of course) to defuse the ticking bomb.

She played the guest of Gasteyer and Shannon, co-hosts of a public-radio cooking show, in a sketch slyly built around an alternate meaning for "muffin."

"A lot of people like my pumpkin pie, and of course my carrot cake is legendary," White's bakery chef began proudly, "but if there's one thing I'm known for, it's my muffin." She didn't stop there.

And in a filmed short that should find a robust afterlife online, "SNL" cast members paid tribute to White by singing "Thank You for Being A Friend," the theme of her classic sitcom, "The Golden Girls."

"Oh, that was just lovely," said White when they were finished. "But I think I prefer my version," whereupon she pulled a black ski mask over her face and led a growling, rip-roaring death-metal rendition that left everyone reeling.

White, whose "SNL" gig resulted from a half-a-million-strong groundswell on Facebook after her hilarious Snickers commercial on the Super Bowl, took pains to thank Facebook during her opening monologue.

Her way.

"When I first heard about the campaign to get me to host 'Saturday Night Live,' I didn't know what Facebook was," White confessed. Then she exhibited her warm smile and a perfectly timed beat before marveling impishly, "Now that I DO know what it is, I have to say: It seems like a huge waste of time."

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