'SNL' Live From New York … But Really This Time

The NBC late night comedy fixture will air in real time across the country Saturday with Jimmy Fallon as host and Harry Styles as the musical guest

Melissa McCarthy's February surprise – her first rollicking appearance as White House spokesman Sean Spicer – went viral before the show was over.

It also went viral before much of the country had a chance to see the show.

For 41 1/2 years, the opening cry of "Live, from New York, it's Saturday Night!" served as a buoyant misnomer for most viewers in the Mountain and Pacific time zones, where the NBC late night comedy fixture long aired on tape delay.

But starting Saturday, the program will run live across the country – finally keeping up with the times.

For decades, the tape delay provided an opportunity to bleep out the occasional four-letter word, like those infamously uttered over the years by the likes of Charlie Rocket, Paul Shaffer, Jenny Slate and, most recently, Kristen Stewart.

The explosion of the internet has rendered waiting moot. Sure, a few years back, online buzz might have drawn viewers in other time zones. But we're at the point where video clips and memes get created and circulated as fast as McCarthy’s Spicer turns his Super Soaker on the White House press corps.

NBC's move also hearkens to the old-fashioned notion of a mass audience sharing entertainment experiences in real time, a phenomenon largely limited these days to major sporting events and awards shows.

"SNL" isn't the Oscars or Super Bowl. But it's logging its largest audiences in more than two decades, presumably on the strength a post-election humor fusillade, featuring the likes of McCarthy and Alec Baldwin. Even at a time where many viewers catch up later online or through on-demand, "SNL" is showing signs, 42 seasons in, of become a rare destination-TV stop.

The first truly live “SNL” kicks off, appropriately enough, with alum and "Tonight Show" star Jimmy Fallon as host. The extra exposure couldn't hurt Fallon, who has been edged out in ratings in recent weeks by Stephen Colbert's political humor-filled "Late Show," which went live after President Trump’s Feb. 28 address to Congress.

Meanwhile, McCarthy is set to return as host next month and seems destined to revive her Spicer act. Only this time, everybody will get the opportunity to see her transform the spokesman's podium into a literal bully pulpit, live from New York.

Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

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