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early and awesome

Tina Fey’s Star Turn As Sarah Palin Almost Didn’t Happen

In the excitement that's followed Tina Fey appearing as Sarah Palin in the Saturday Night Live season premiere (it was their most-watched episode since 2002), it's easy to forget that Fey, um, isn't on SNL anymore. On Monday, SNL's Lorne Michaels, Amy Poehler, Seth Meyers, and Jim Downey (the writer behind most of their political material, including the Palin sketch) participated in a panel discussion in celebration of the 2008 launch of the Museum of the Moving Image's The Living Room Candidate, a Website that archives presidential campaign commercials. There, Michaels said that actual cast members Kristen Wiig and Casey Wilson both "do Palin and do her perfectly," but as the season premiere approached, he said, it became "a situation in which the audience just cast Tina Fey. We'd get e-mails, and everybody you talked to was saying, 'You're going to have so much fun with Tina Fey playing Palin!' And I'd have to say, 'You know, she actually has her own show now.' But the audience felt like that's what they wanted to see."

We'd had an image in our heads of Fey seeing the Palin nomination and automatically volunteering her services. Not the case, Michaels told us backstage. "No, no, no," he said, and then laughed for a very long time. "She's not looking for work. We leaned on her. Same thing with her hosting the first show back [after the writers' strike]. It was the worst timing, but she did it." Of course Fey agreed to appear, but there was a catch. "She was shooting 30 Rock Saturday with Oprah, who had arranged her schedule for the part," said Michaels. "So we just didn't know, physically, how late that was going to go or if she'd have any time to rehearse. She was shooting until 9:30 on Saturday, so she made it to the studio, but we didn't know at any point if it would happen." As Poehler joked, "Up until five minutes before, I was playing Palin." And even as the sketch was set to go shoot live, Fey and Poehler were getting new lines. Meyers said he was shocked he was even allowed on a panel, given that the last line he'd added to the sketch was "boner-shrinker." "Boner-killer killed the audience," he said. "But they loved boner-shrinker."

Related: Gayle King on Oprah’s ‘30 Rock’ Appearance: ‘Hilaaarious’ [Vulture]

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Photo: Courtesy of NBC