‘SNL’ Ratings Soar as Satirical Influence Grows

by Meghan Kimberling ‘17

High school students are not likely to sit down and read a lengthy article on President Trump’s foreign policy, but if a popular show can relay the information creatively and comedically, then they are likely to become more engaged. Seeing a serious topic transform into a comedic one helps them understand the current events and politics of the world.

NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” popularly dubbed SNL, has occupied the screen for more than four decades, producing comedic sketches that poke fun at today’s culture and global happenings. Within the past 18 months, however, SNL has enjoyed its highest ratings in more than 20 years. Many attribute the newfound popularity to the show’s amusing coverage and satirical representation of the most recent election and the resulting Trump presidency.

Although the show attempts to add a twist of comedy to current events and relevant news, several figures depicted in the skits many have spoken out against the controversial and at times insulting portrayals. Every American president since Richard Nixon has been lampooned on the show; however, only Trump has lashed out publicly. President Trump, very active on Twitter, has expressed his disapproval of the show and Alec Baldwin’s portrayal of the president on multiple occasions, calling the show “really bad television” and “the worst of NBC.”

There is much irony in Trump’s bitterness as the current president himself has actually hosted the show twice, most recently in 2015, as a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

Since being sworn in as the 45th president of the United States, Trump has not commented on any recent SNL skits; however, his administration has not quite escaped the show’s spotlight. Melissa McCarthy portrayed Sean Spicer, Trump’s often bumbling press secretary, in a recent SNL skit and her performance was applauded by many, excluding the man himself. Spicer responded to the skit by critiquing her portrayal and then criticizing Baldwin’s portrayal of Trump as going from “funny to mean” in an interview with “Extra” on Super Bowl Sunday.

With news today coming in many different forms, SNL has adapted well to the changing platforms since its debut in 1975. When viewers miss the live special on Saturday night, they can still watch clips and bonus videos on the SNL YouTube channel, which has almost four million subscribers. Unsurprisingly, the two most viewed videos on the channel are McCarthy’s skit impersonating Spicer with 24 million views, and Baldwin (as Donald Trump) with Kate McKinnon (as Hillary Clinton) staged at the first presidential debate with 23 million views.

SNL’s ability to adapt to changing times over the course of its 822 episodes has attracted a much younger crowd. The show’s February 11 broadcast with host Baldwin as the host for a record-breaking 17th time received a Neilson rating [an audience composition measuring system] of 7.2 over the 18 to 49-year-old demographic. Although Trump claims that the show is “failing,” NBC network reports that viewership is up a whopping 50 percent since last year.

Despite Trump’s hesitations to applaud the award-winning show, SNL is still revolutionizing the practice of televised sketch comedy and has attracted the hard-to-reach demographic of Millennials and Generation Z. At least one story of success during the years of the Trump administration will be the indisputable flourishing of SNL – even if it is considered “fake news” by some.