Lorne Michaels Gave Lonely Island His Blessing for 'Party Over Here'

Lorne Michaels_Lonely_Island_Split - Getty - H 2016
Getty Images

Lorne Michaels_Lonely_Island_Split - Getty - H 2016

When Fox approached Lonely Island — the comedy troupe comprising Saturday Night Live vets Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer — about getting the network back into the late-night arena, the trio said yes, under one condition: They wouldn't compete with the NBC stalwart that gave them their start.

"The first thing we said to Fox was, 'We'll never go against SNL,' so we made sure that we ended before they start," said Schaffer to an intimate group of press on the set of their new sketch comedy entry, Party Over Here. "We wanted to do something new and exciting and fun but we didn't want it to have any direct conflict," added Samberg. "We want to be asked back! We're not, like, raging war on SNL. That's still our home and our family." 

To further ensure they weren't encroaching on sacred territory, the group set out to get their former boss' blessing (something they tweeted to fans shortly after the news broke). "We called Lorne Michaels, and like with every conversation with him, it was a half-an-hour long and that part of it lasted 30 seconds," said Taccone. "We spewed out everything we were doing and how it's not in anyway [similar to SNL] and he was like, 'Oh ok, sounds good. What else is new?' 

After agreeing to develop for the 11 p.m. time slot, the guys — busy working on their forthcoming movie, Pop Star: Never Stop Never Stopping, set to hit theaters June 3 — turned to comedic actor-writer-producer Paul Scheer (The League) to help create the show and serve as a more hands-on executive producer. In early February, the sketch series starring up-and-coming comediennes Jessica McKenna, Nicole Byer and Alison Rich (from left to right in the image below) was announced.

Jessica McKenna, Nicole Byer and Alison Rich

The landscape may be booming with female-led comedies (see: the upcoming Ghostbusters reboot, Inside Amy Schumer and Broad City), but the show's producers insist they didn't set out to create an all-female sketch show. "We looked at men and women. There was no mandate that this needed to be three women," said Samberg, adding that their top choices just happened to be female.

What sold Samberg on the three Upright Citizens Brigade alums was an infomercial parody they all had previously acted in together. "I was watching it and I was like, 'That's the show!' They all had a different energy, they played off each other really well and they all make me laugh really hard," said Samberg, who went on to use the words "infectious," "wonderfully weird" and "just f—king funny" to describe the cast. 

The show combines pretaped sketches with live audience bits. Among the short skits filmed ahead of time: a parody of "transvaginal mesh" lawsuit commercials (yes, the ones comedian Chelsea Peretti has joked about before), a period satire about a suffragette gone rogue and a spoof on Uber centering on a fictional airplane-sharing service called "Flyte." But it's another sketch that's been giving Fox's standards department a headache. It stars Byer as a ghost hunter who, to rid houses of the haunting creatures, has sex with them. "The standards people were so upset," said Scheer, who assured the reporters present that the version of the video they watched would never air on TV. "They were like, 'We can't show penetration.' And we were like, 'There's nothing there — she's clothed and it's a ghost!' "

Scheer went on to add that every one of the show's sketches will live online — and if he's lucky, the R-rated cuts, too. "We would love to release totally redband versions of things. That's a dance we have to do with Fox," he said. "But you do not have to have a TV to watch the show. It will be on Facebook; it will be on Youtube. Fox has actually been aggressive about wanting to put it out there for everyone to see. They've seen the success of Key and Peele and Amy Schumer, and [I think they know] that's how people are watching sketch now. It's not about tuning in all the time."

For their part, Lonely Island will remain behind the camera — with the exception of one small scene in the first episode. The decision to stay offscreen was an intentional one, says Taccone, who explained that they didn't want to take the spotlight away from the leading ladies. Samberg insists he and his two partners have still been intimately involved throughout the process. "We read everything, we watch everything, we give our thoughts," he said, adding with a laugh: "And we admire the talent of people who are working harder."

Party Over Here premieres Saturday, March 12, at 11 p.m. on Fox.