Question: I have seen a few criticisms of Brian Williams' decision to host Saturday Night Live, people saying that as a newsman he would be denigrating his integrity, Edward R. Murrow would be spinning in his grave, yada, yada. I normally don't watch the show, but as a (print) journalist, I was curious to see Williams' performance. I think there's a line between pandering yourself for cheap laughs and showing an ability to poke fun. In my opinion, Williams did a great job of demonstrating the latter. He was really entertaining and showed comedic ability, and it's not like now I'll no longer find his news reports credible. Perhaps this would've been unthinkable in the days of Walter Cronkite or even Tom Brokaw. But even if this was just a gimmick for NBC Nightly News to reach out to a "hipper" audience, I can't help but be happy and relieved for Williams. It must have felt like Lorne Michaels approached him to try skydiving for the first time. And to know he survived it without serious injury (to his reputation) has got to be an exhilarating feeling. Any thoughts?
Answer: Much like Bruce Fretts in the Cheers & Jeers column, I was mostly charmed by Brian Williams' performance. (If Murrow turned in his grave every time a news purist groused, that would be one messy cemetery plot.) He was affable and likable in the sketches and pretty much got out of the way of the show's feistier comedians: Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph in the "Bronx Beat" talk show, Kristen Wiig's breathless broadcaster in the Publishers Clearing House skit. I was dismayed when he didn't take part at all in the Weekend Update segment, which seemed a squandered opportunity (and allowed me to reflect yet again at how far that franchise has fallen since the Tina Fey-Jimmy Fallon heyday). And as usual for this show, the anchor's best work was poking fun at himself in the "Digital Short," which felt more like the kind of thing you'd find on Conan's late-night show. It says something about SNL's current state that the most notable moments (Barack Obama cameo aside) tend to be when the show isn't live. As for Williams' reputation: It's unscathed. He's a funny and glib guy, and the idea of him doing SNL was to impart that side of his personality to an audience that has little regard for the evening news on any network. Felt like a win-win to me, although I agree with those who note that if Katie Couric had done it, she probably would have taken a lot more abuse. Here's more on the subject of SNL.