NEW YORK — When “Saturday Night Live” returns this weekend for its 39th year, executive producer Lorne Michaels won’t be fretting.
“We’re gonna do a good show,” he declared. “Every time Tina has come back, the show’s been great.”
He’s talking about former “SNL” regular and frequent guest Tina Fey, of course, back again to host this season premiere (Saturday at 11:30 p.m. EDT on NBC, with musical guest Arcade Fire).
Joining Michaels for a phone interview on Tuesday, Fey laughingly labeled “a coincidence” her presence on any good shows she’s guest hosted. But she offered a couple of ways she might be serving “SNL” well this week.
“One, I have nothing to promote,” she promised, “so we’ve got plenty of time for other things.
“Two, I’m always happy to play straight person, so, hopefully, the cast will get to do more than when they have other kinds of hosts. You might get to see those new guys more. Although I’m not promising their parents anything.”
The “new guys” are the half-dozen rookie cast members — Beck Bennett, John Milhiser, Kyle Mooney, Mike O’Brien, Noel Wells and Brooks Wheelan.
Michaels agreed that neither their parents nor any other viewer should count on them making a splash on opening night.
Their only sure sighting? As members of the troupe when it convenes at the end to say goodnight.
“The intent is always to go slowly and not put anyone out there unless you feel they can score,” Michaels said.
“I think if they have one line as a waiter in a sketch, they’ll be thrilled,” Fey said.
These six newcomers are helping fill the larger-than-usual void left last season by exiting “SNL” stars Fred Armisen, Bill Hader and Jason Sudeikis.
Is Michaels feeling the absence of that mighty trio?
“I saw them all within the last week,” he said dryly, “so I don’t really feel their absence.”
But what about viewers?
“I can’t concern myself with how viewers feel,” he cracked, which made Fey chuckle.
“It’s always been that way,” Michaels went on, turning serious. He pointed to “SNL” alums Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler and Fey, who all got big laughs as part of Sunday’s Emmycast.
“You feel really proud that they’re as good as they are, and that you were part of that,” he said. “But ‘Saturday Night Live’ has always been about reinvention, and we’re doing it again. That’s what keeps the show alive.”
On Monday, he and Fey flew back from Los Angeles, where “Saturday Night Live” landed its 40th Emmy (the most for any series in history) and Fey shared the comedy-series writing Emmy with Tracey Wigfield for “30 Rock.” On arriving in New York, they went straight to the week’s first “SNL” meeting at 10 p.m.
This season promises to be even busier than usual for Michaels, the famous multi-tasker, whose duties now include “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon hosting from New York starting early next year.
With this promotion, Fallon will leave “Late Night,” also part of Michaels’ empire. Seth Meyers takes over that hosting assignment.
But for now Meyers will remain at the “Weekend Update” anchor desk, joined by sophomore “SNL” player Cecily Strong.
“Count on Seth through February,” Michaels said, “and I think he knows he can stay after that. It will be up to him to assess if he can handle the workload.”
Can Michaels handle his mammoth workload? Why not re-hire Fey, whose “30 Rock” has ended its seven-season run, to oversee “SNL” every week and ease his pace?
“If there’s any way you could convince her, that would be great,” he laughed.
“I think they know what they’re doing,” she said.
Instead, Fey is now huddled with her partner Robert Garlock developing pilots for shows she wouldn’t appear in. (She said she would “love” to star in a new series sometime, “but it just seemed like good manners to sit out a season or two.”)
Meanwhile, Michaels is kicking off a new season of the show he says consumes some 80 percent of his time, and insists he has no plans to step away.
Understood. But at age 68, and after decades running the comedy juggernaut he launched in 1975, doesn’t he get a little tired of the grind?
“VERY tired of it!” he hastily replied. “But then that music starts at 11:30, and you remember it’s a very exciting place to be!”
EDITOR’S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier.