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'Saturday Night Live' yanks, then reposts, controversial bailout sketch

October 7, 2008 |  6:53 pm

The blogosphere erupted today with debate over a “Saturday Night Live” sketch that skewered President Bush, Democrats, homebuyers and subprime lenders for their roles in the mortgage meltdown.

As our colleague Peter Viles has documented on the L.A. Land blog, the furor wasn’t just over the provocative material but because the skit was mysteriously yanked off NBC’s website Monday. That fueled theories that the network was caving in to pressure from the well-connected Democrats parodied in the sketch.

As Viles wrote:

The skit, a parody of a C-SPAN news conference, ridiculed subprime borrowers, housing speculators and Herb and Marion Sandler, the real-life couple who built Golden West Financial into a subprime lending powerhouse and sold it to Wachovia before the subprime collapse. At one point in the skit, the Herb Sandler character says he made $24 billion off the subprime boom. Graphics then appear labeling the Sandlers as "People who should be shot."

The Sandlers are supporters of liberal causes such as the Center for American Progress and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Late today, a spokesman for the show said the sketch was temporarily removed because “upon review, we caught certain elements in the sketch that didn't meet our standards. We took it down and made some minor changes.”

The video was reposted on NBC’s website this afternoon and can be viewed above.

In a previously scheduled interview this afternoon to discuss “Saturday Night Live’s” upcoming prime-time specials, executive producer Lorne Michaels explained that he was not aware that the Sandlers were real people when the sketch aired Saturday night.

“I, in a state of complete ignorance, thought they were characters in the piece,” he said. “I did not know they were real, up until somebody called me about it on Monday. And I went, what? Now, that’s entirely my fault. Entirely.

“When I spoke to them, I can assure you this: They are very, very real. I think they were angry, I think distraught, I think they were not expecting to turn on the television and see that. First of all, I pleaded incompetence, which is not a thing I do often, and the fact that I did not know they were real is 100% my responsibility.”

The bit was penned by veteran “SNL” writer Jim Downey, who writes a large share of the show’s political sketches. Downey had heard of the Sandlers and “felt that from what he read and what he was basing it on, he thought it was a fair hit,” Michaels said.

But after speaking to the couple, Michaels said he and other executives decided to take the sketch offline to edit out the most offensive lines. The chryon under the couple that referred to them as “people who should be shot” was removed, as was a reference their “corrupt activities.”

He noted that the Sandlers did not request the changes but that he felt it was an appropriate step to take.

“I understand the Sandlers’ complaint,” Michaels said. “I think it’s not insignificant to read ‘People who should be shot’ underneath your name.”

But he stressed that the line was clearly satire and not meant literally. Rather, Michaels said, the sketch was an effort to skewer those who profited during a time when so many Americans have lost money.

“There are people over the last 10 years who made a pile of money,” he said. “And to most people, particularly to our audience, those numbers seem astounding. So whether they did anything wrong -- and there is absolutely no evidence that they did -- they are winners at a time when there’s an enormous amount of public anger about anyone who won.”

-- Matea Gold

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