SNL Premiere Will Tackle Terrorism

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Saturday Night Live plans to acknowledge the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks "in an emotional way" during this week's season premiere, executive producer Lorne Michaels said Wednesday.

First, though, the show has to be sure it's going to be on the air.

It's preparing for its 27th season opener on NBC in a somber, uncertain atmosphere, knowing it could be pre-empted at the last minute if there's breaking news in the war on terrorism.

"We will definitely acknowledge the event and we will acknowledge it in an emotional way, because that's the appropriate way," Michaels said in an interview, shortly before listening to prospective comedy skits.

"All we can do is focus on getting a show on Saturday that addresses what happened with respect and dignity and at the same time do a comedy show that allows people some kind of relief," he said.

How that's done exactly isn't certain yet, he said.

Reese Witherspoon, star of this summer's light comedy hit, Legally Blonde, is the guest host. Alicia Keys is the musical guest.

Michaels was forced to juggle when the planned Oct. 6 guest host, Ben Stiller, backed out in the wake of the attack. The third-week host, American Pie actor Seann William Scott, was moved up a week and Drew Barrymore agreed to fill in Oct. 13.

Some SNL staff members were forced out of their apartments because of the attacks, and the show had to evacuate briefly from its Rockefeller Center studio, Michaels said.

None of the cast members wanted to talk about what it's like to prepare for a show in this atmosphere.

"When you're here and you see the selflessness and bravery, it hopefully inspires you to do your job professionally," Michaels said. "I don't think the audience is looking for us to go through an existential crisis about whether what we do is important or not."

Saturday Night Live has been in the midst of a revival because of its topical humor, particularly during last year's presidential election and aftermath.

There's no telling whether Will Ferrell's portrayal of President Bush as a vacuous party boy will be changed in light of the events. So far, Ferrell hasn't been penciled in for a Bush skit, Michaels said.

The online humor magazine The Onion has been among the first outlets to start mining the attacks for humor. Its current issue features articles like, "American Life Turns into Bad Jerry Bruckheimer Movie" and "President Urges Calm, Restraint Among Nation's Ballad Singers."

As of Wednesday — still early for the notoriously last-minute SNL writers — no subject is out of bounds, Michaels said. He'll go with what feels right.

"It's gotten a little easier each day," he said. "Last week at this time it seemed impossible."