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NEW YORK — Never mind all those questions about who will win the election: The more pressing concern for many viewers is whether Tina Fey will return to play Sarah Palin on “Saturday Night Live.”
The guest appearance by the show’s former cast member and head writer was by all accounts a virtuoso impersonation and a viral hit. But Fey stars in NBC’s weekly primetime comedy “30 Rock,” and it’s unclear whether she’ll moonlight on “SNL” to skewer the Republican vice presidential candidate, to whom she bears a much-remarked-upon resemblance.
Fey — and the will-she-or-won’t-she suspense that preceded her appearance — helped make NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” a ratings smash in its season kickoff (which was hosted by Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps).
Then the 5 1/2-minute segment pairing Fey with cast member Amy Poehler (as Hillary Clinton) has also become a global Internet sensation.
The voters, um, viewers seemed to have spoken. In preliminary numbers measuring the nation’s major cities, “SNL’s” 34th season premiere logged a 7.4 rating and 18% share of audience — the largest viewership for a “SNL” season debut since 2001, and up 64% from last year’s opener, according to Nielsen Media Research.
With the Alaska governor poised to be a prominent part of the political race through Election Day as Sen. John McCain’s running mate, and possibly serving as vice president after that, there’s little doubt she’ll be spoofed again by “SNL,” which historically has had particular relevance in its political parodies.
Will Fey be back in the role?
“We are taking it day-by-day,” said “SNL” spokesman Marc Liepis on Monday.
Could she be back as soon as this Saturday’s show?
“We don’t even have a script written yet,” Liepis replied.
Under any circumstances, it was unlikely Fey would make an encore appearance on this week’s “SNL,” in as much as the New York-based show will air the night before Sunday’s Emmy broadcast, live from Los Angeles. With “30 Rock” having snagged several nominations, including Fey as best comic actress, she is expected to be on hand for the ceremony.
For the long term, “SNL” executive producer Lorne Michaels reportedly has an as-yet-undisclosed “Plan B” and “Plan C” for a Palin impersonator, in lieu of Fey.
In the meantime, as Liepis noted, “She has a day job.”
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