Lorne Michaels says Conan O'Brien will prevail

Speaks out on the saga at 'Saturday Night Live' discussion

NEW YORK -- "Saturday Night Live" creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels predicted Tuesday night that Conan O'Brien would prevail after his recent departure from "The Tonight Show" and NBC.

He also said he is not in a hurry to retire, because he is very engaged in the show and enjoys it. "There will be a time for that," Michaels quipped. "It will be very difficult for me to stop."

He also said he feels it is important to keep an old-school variety show on the air as networks nowadays wouldn't launch a new one. "This will be the last of it," he said.

Michaels, who used to executive produce "Late Night With Conan O'Brien," said he originally picked the comedian because he was "very smart," "just brilliant" and had an "amazing character." After early struggles, he prevailed, he added. "And I'm sure he will again," Michaels added.

He made his comments at "Live From New York," a discussion led by the New Yorker's Ken Auletta with Michaels and "SNL" head writer Seth Meyers.

Michaels danced around the question about the reason for the O'Brien-Jay Leno disaster. "There was a lot of worry and concern" that Leno could go to another network when the transition to O'Brien as "Tonight Show" host neared, he said, which is why Leno was given the 10 p.m. slot. But this meant that O'Brien did "not necessarily" have a good lead-in.

Meyers suggested the original promise to make O'Brien Leno's replacement years before the actual handover was problematic, too. "You can't tell someone that you want to stay married for five years" and then get a divorce, he said.

Various questions Tuesday night surrounded SNL's celebration of its 35th anniversary this year and its longevity.

Execution is more important than the comedic idea, Meyers and Michaels said. The former mentioned the popular "Dick in a Box" skit with Justin Timberlake as one example of an idea that might not have sounded as funny before it was written and performed to perfection.

Michaels said skits must play during the dress rehearsal, with the best sketches seeing performer and writing in perfect harmony. "It's almost never the idea," he said. "It's all about how you do it."

Auletta also asked Meyers about a comment by Tina Fey that "30 Rock" character Jack Donaghy was modeled after Michaels. "There are definitely a lot of seeds of Lorne in Alec Baldwin's character," he said.

The event was organized by the New Yorker and the S.I. Newhouse School.
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