A Hot Dog and a Martini: SNL’s Historic Week with Betty White

Below, Lorne Michaels, Tina Fey, Ana Gasteyer, Bill Hader, then editor-in-chief Seth Meyers, Bobby Moynihan, staff writers Jorma Taccone and Jillian Bell, episode director Don Roy King, White’s longtime friend and agent Jeff Witjas, and self-proclaimed “superfan” Betty White David Matthew– the man behind the Facebook campaign that landed her hosting the show – shared their memories of White and one of the most memorable weeks of SNL the story.

After working steadily in film and television for nearly seven decades, White enjoyed a next-level career resurgence in the 1990s and 2000s with scene-stealing work in movies. Lake Placid and Proposal and on television David E. Kelleyit is Ally McBeal, practice, and Boston Legal. In 2006, she displayed her impeccable comedic timing and salty sense of humor on the stage for Comedy Central’s Roast of William Shatner. In 2009, the Screen Actors Guild presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Jeff Witjas: A lot of people called it a comeback, but Betty never made it. She was still working, but I wanted to make her a little more relevant. I always thought of myself as the quarterback of his career, and as a quarterback, I gave Betty the chance to run the ball. And no one ran better than Betty. She was always up for anything. The William Shatner roast began to open doors.

But even before White’s now classic 2010 Super Bowl Snickers commercial, Matthews had launched his Facebook campaign for White to host SNL. The inspiration was a season seven Daddy’s Girls episode, “Home Again, Rose” – a two-part episode in which Rose, played by White, suffers a heart attack. Before being brought in for surgery, Rose, heavily sedated and delirious, asks her daughter to bend over to tell her something important. She shouts, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday night.

Matthew: In 2009, my husband Eddie and I were on a road trip to visit our families over the holidays. We stopped in Washington, DC to visit a friend. Over too many glasses of wine, I bet I’d make a Facebook page to host it SNL. The bet wasn’t that it would work, but whether it would get 2,000 people to like it.

The page went live on December 31, 2009. Over the next five or six weeks, the likes increased slowly but steadily, a few hundred here, 50 there. At the time of the Snickers ad, there were maybe 5,000 people who signed up. I had already won the bet. One day, the Facebook page went from 8,000 to 40,000, and that’s when we realized that USA today and (online gossip columnist) Perez Hilton took it over. It snowballed from there.

The page would reach around 640,000 likes.

Witjas: She wasn’t big on social media at the time. I tried to explain Facebook and the campaign. She appreciated that someone went that far to do it. But that alone wouldn’t push her to do the show.

It also wouldn’t compel Lorne Michaels to invite her to host. As it turns out, SNL had tried several times to land White, but the timing had never worked out. The Facebook campaign and Snickers ad presented a new opportunity.

Lorne Michaels: We had asked for her over the years because she was one of the hottest comedians. It just bubbled up. The audience didn’t know that the timing had always been off, or that she didn’t want to do it at the time, but her absence was really clear.

Witjas: People told him, “They’re going to take you places you don’t want to go. Once we got the offer, Lorne promised, “We’re not going to do that to Betty White. She will have a say in everything. It was the perfect time for her to do it, but I brought it to her and she said no. I told him, ‘You have to do it.’ And she came. I saw various articles where she said that if she didn’t, her agent would divorce her. I don’t know why she chose that word. I never said that, but she felt I would be so mad at her. I was never mad at Betty White.

From NBC/Getty Pictures.

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