Friday :: Dec 12, 2003

Al's SNL Reviews Are In

by pessimist

******** Saturday Night Fever *********

Former Vermont Governor, Howard Dean, might be ahead in the race for the Democrats' nomination for President, but it's another candidate who's emerging as the real character.

With all the snow keeping people in the house this evening, Democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton chose a good night to host ``Saturday Night Live.'' Who else but the Reverend Al Sharpton, the veteran Baptist preacher who has no formal experience in politics, or economics, or foreign affairs for that matter, but who has had decades in the public eye. The Reverend proved his flamboyant reputation again. Sharpton stands out in the Democrat field, and not just because he's the only black man.

Al Sharpton is wearing a blue suit, a deep strong blue that whispers gravitas; his tie and shirt are equally conservative. But the black suede shoes give it away. This is no ordinary dark-suit pol. "For the first time in my career, I'm a little bit nervous," says Sharpton, "You could bomb; you could not be funny."

Of course, no one thinks Sharpton won't be funny. After all, this is a guy whodebates. Sharpton is known for his one-liners that often can get laughter out of his rivals during deadly dull political debates.

(excerpt from Saturday Night Live)

AL SHARPTON: For me it's a wonderful opportunity to reach out to a broad audience. Maybe tonight, people can finally get to know the real Al Sharpton. President Al Sharpton! (laughter)

AUDIENCE MEMBER: What's the first thing going through your head the morning you wake up in the White House?

AL SHARPTON: Well I think the first thing going through my head will be to make sure that Bush has all his stuff out.

(audience laughter)

(end excerpt)

Sharpton is refreshingly funny and direct. Good thing, says SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels, who invited the native New Yorker to host last week.

Normally the monologue is a source of dread, even in the hands of professionals, but this episode's opener was a treat, with Sharpton and Comic Tracy Morgan appearing on stage together as Sharpton Past and Sharpton Present. The good reverend's outfit was almost funereal while Morgan came out with wilder hair, a big gut, and dressed in a garish "Lord Crumley Brothers" purple velour track suit with gold jewelry.

"I never looked that bad," Sharpton protested.

"Think again," Morgan replied.

The two bantered aimlessly for a bit, and then, suddenly, a spark. Morgan mentioned that Sharpton was once the road manager for James Brown, which prompted the candidate to bust out a rendition of Brown's "I Feel Good." Sharpton's interpretation, a rather presidential one, avoided the carnality of Brown's, but his voice was strong, and he shimmied with the best of the them while Morgan's impression of the "old" Sharpton made you feel that despite any past transgressions, at least the "new" Sharpton had a good sense of humor about himself.

For the rest of the night, however, Sharpton was distant and tentative, a star who for some reason decided to write himself out of his own show. He kept busy changing costumes for a variety of roles, portraying lawyer Johnnie Cochran, Michael Jackson's father and one of the three wise men searching for Jesus. In one skit, Sharpton pretended he was opening a sushi restaurant to fund his presidential campaign, even though he was repelled by the food.

He should have quit after the monologue.

To be fair, Sharpton's leaden presence was not as embarrassing as Sen. John Edwards' ass-kissing appearance on The Daily Show, nor as bizarre as Sen. John Kerry's turn on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno as a hot-roddin' motorcycle mamma. Of all the Democratic hopefuls, only Gov. Howard Dean, who did a passable James Carville impression on the first episode of HBO's K Street, has had a shred of success as a politainer.

The conventional wisdom is that former President Bill Clinton changed politics forever by playing the sax on Arsenio and answering the question "boxers or briefs?" on MTV, but what made those moments remarkable was not the quality or content of the performance, or its content, or even the fact that he was reaching out to young voters, but the element of surprise. Today, almost all the lines have been crossed, and simply showing up and being a good sport is no longer nearly enough. I think we have traveled too far down a road that perhaps wasn't as well-marked as we thought.

If anything, given the Bush administration's affinity for flight-deck stage craft, I would think a candidate could make some political headway as an antishowman, but I doubt this will happen soon. The comedy stop is now a permanent part of the campaign trail. The pols are going to keep on coming, and despite their best intentions, they will most likely be greeted as Al Sharpton was Saturday night, with polite laughter and a smattering of applause.

********* personality won't be enough ***********

Sharpton might be grabbing attention, but the problem is that he has absolutely no relevant experience - no stint in elected office, no record in business, no knowledge of foreign affairs and no campaign machine to help him spin his way out of those shortcomings. Building trust in Sharpton may rank as the most ambitious reclamation project in the history of American politics. Questions abound about whether he's even seriously seeking Presidential office. Instead, former colleagues and other observers believe he's trying to boost his recognition factor so he can assume the mantle as the United States' pre-eminent black leader. With none of his past forgotten, much less forgiven, Sharpton stands as a central figure in the nation's politics because of his debating skills and the vagaries of the primary calendar.

Perhaps his most important date: South Carolina, which kicks off the southern swing of primaries. Black voters are expected to account for up to 50 percent of the turnout in the February 3 contest, and recent polls show Sharpton holding his own. Early primary winners will be looking to consolidate successes; losers will be seeking to make a stand--and in the middle of it all is Sharpton looming as a spoiler.

The polls currently show Sharpton's support at 3 per cent, so calling him a long-shot to win the nomination would be kind. But the force of his personality and growing media profile means he may be able to exert some influence over who does get the nod, and later on, he could be useful convincing African-American voters to get out to the ballot box in support of that candidate.

"I think Americans tend to trust people with a sense of humor," Lorne Michaels says. Of course, Saturday Night Live is just a dress rehearsal for the rest of Sharpton's performances this campaign season. "It's risky," Sharpton says.

"He's just another candidate for us," says Andi Pringle, Howard Dean's deputy campaign manager. "We don't necessarily see him as a complication."

But with Sharpton, you don't always see what's coming. Like when he tipped a little too far back in his chair during one skit rehearsal last week, nearly toppling over. Just minutes later, Sharpton would brag about his sharp physical reflexes that kept him from taking a tumble. (So much for his preshow jitters.) But he might as well have been talking about his sharp political reflexes. "I ain't lost my ghetto balance," he says. He's got a point.

"I hope tonight America laughed together," Sharpton said at the night's conclusion. "Maybe we can learn how to live together."

This time, Reverend, you aren't preaching to the choir.

*********** FCC Rule pulls plug on Al Sharpton **************

On "Saturday Night Live" over the weekend, Democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton danced, sang and let people make fun of his clothes. But Central Coast residents missed the show because the local Santa Cruz NBC affiliate, KSBW, refused to run it.

KSBW was not alone: an NBC spokesman in New York said 32 out of about 230 NBC affiliates didn't air the program. Affiliates uncomfortable with broadcasting the Sharpton SNL show were given an alternate program a warmed-over selection of old Steve Martin skits from the program.

Al Sharpton busted some James Brown moves on his "Saturday Night Live" debut, but viewers in St. Louis and some other cities didn't get the chance to see them. Several NBC affiliates - including KSDK - refused to carry "Saturday Night Live" with Sharpton as host for fear it would activate federal "equal time provisions" and compel them to offer air time to the eight other Democrats running for president.

Several other NBC affiliates owned by the Hearst-Argyle corporation in California, such as KCRA in Sacramento, also declined to run the show. Other Hearst-Argyle stations located in other states where Sharpton has been certified as a candidate, also passed on the show. All four NBC affiliates in Iowa, where the Jan. 19 caucus represents the first major test of the Democratic nomination battle, said last week they wouldn't air the show. NBC's Boston station - seen in much of New Hampshire, site of the first presidential primary - also didn't show it.

"Saturday Night Live" frequently has political content and occasional guest appearances by politicians, but this is the first time in memory stations bailed out because of equal time rules. Given that the job of an "SNL" host requires a week's worth of rehearsal time, it's unlikely any of the other Democrats would take the same opportunity as Sharpton, even if offered.

KNTV, an affiliate owned by NBC itself, broadcast the show.

Joseph W. Heston, KSBW president and general manager, said viewers should not read too much into the decision. He said 12 people called the station with questions about the Sharpton decision: "We get more response than that to a controversial editorial. It was not high drama."

Nevertheless, the decision drew criticism from Santa Cruz County Democratic Central Committee chairman Darrell Darling. Though he's not a Sharpton supporter, he said using equal time considerations as a reason not to run that edition of "Saturday Night Live" was "rather absurd."

"If there is anyone who deserves equal time, compared to any other candidate, it would be Al Sharpton," Darling said. He said other candidates "have far more exposure to the airwaves. I'd be loathe to consider the possibility that KSBW is being discriminatory, either because of Sharpton's positions, or because of, shall we say, for any other reason, but it does have that appearance."

Heston said Sharpton's politics, personality and identity had no bearing on the affiliate's decision. He said KSBW is not obligated to broadcast every piece of material NBC sends along. The federal Elections Commission could not be reached to comment.

"Saturday Night Live" itself weighed in on the ''to broadcast or not to broadcast" dilemma regarding the Sharpton appearance. "SNL" alluded to the missing stations in two separate skits on Saturday. In the show's opening, Jimmy Fallon portrayed NBC Entertainment president Jeff Zucker, announcing other opportunities for Democrats to allay equal time concerns. For instance, Gen. Wesley Clark will be made over on "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" and Howard Dean will eat camel rectum on "Fear Factor," Fallon said. Later, he and Tina Fey held up a map showing NBC affiliates they said weren't airing the show. They mocked many of the cities, calling Des Moines, Iowa, "Snoozeville, USA."

Source Links

KSBW pulls plug on Al Sharpton

MANY Viewers Miss Sharpton's 'SNL' Act

AL Sharpton shimmies to James Brown on SNL.

AL Sharpton: Live From NY

LIVE From New York! It's Al Sharpton

NO free air time for Al

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