Don Roy King: Saturday Night Live | Tony Guida's NY

>>>TONY GUIDA: Hello. I’m Tony Guida. This is my New York Not much in our lives remains constant over the years let alone for two generations but as a New Yorker I’m proud to salute one of the fabulous constants >>>Live from New York it’s Saturday Night >>>TONY GUIDA: Saturday Night Live. The program has been called a cross between 60 Minutes and Monte Python. Whatever it is it’s damn near a miracle it gets on the air at all. Don Roy King is the wizard at the controls of Saturday Night Live and he’s here to talk about his Saturday night miracles. Next ♪ [Theme Music] ♪ >>>TONY GUIDA: I am delighted to welcome to the program Don Roy King director of Saturday Night Live now in his 10th year and probably got a good hold on the job with 6 Emmys in the bag already. Welcome >>>DON ROY KING: Well thank you. I’m thrilled to be here >>>TONY GUIDA: I am jealous I have to start with that I’m jealous. You have the best job in television and people like me wish they had that job >>>DON ROY KING: I don’t want to correct you but I think I’ve got the best job in the world and I couldn’t agree with you more. It is thrilling and challenging and a giant mountain to climb every week but I have never had more fun climbing >>>TONY GUIDA: How often do you hear that Don that boy, you’ve got the best job in the world? >>>DON ROY KING: Every day and it does not, I don’t get tired of it >>>TONY GUIDA: No. Why would you? I understand though you didn’t think you got the job from Lorne Michaels the father of Saturday Night Live when you interviewed with Lorne you thought it was no good right? >>>DON ROY KING: Lorne is not particularly easy to read He is not particularly warm and giving and he can be cold and distant. And when I first met him I thought well it was kind of cool to get into his office at least but there’s no chance that he’s going to take a chance on me primarily because I had lots of television experience, lots of live experience, lots of experience directing music and every kind of the genre that Saturday Night Live makes fun of but I had never directed much sketch comedy and that certainly is the crux of the show but he took a risk and I had a steep learning curve but kind of making it to the top >>>TONY GUIDA: Well I think you’ve arrived. I mean live television is in your D.N.A You did the morning shows on ABC and CBS for all those years. You did the Mike Douglas show. I mean live television is, you look up the word live television in the dictionary and there’s a picture of you >>>DON ROY KING: The first time I directed multiple cameras in a live setting was in college. And I said I like this It feels like being a quarterback of a football team I’m barking orders and I’m following reactions that happens and I’m keeping my eye on the clock and if a mistake happens I get by it and move on to the next thing I’ve got to convey what I want, the instantaneous decisions I’m making, I’ve got to convey that to a team very efficiently and quickly and have them pull together to make sure that the people at home see what we want them to see And that adrenaline rush is one that I’ve always liked is as a kid athlete and have loved for the 46 years I’ve directed television Still get that same rush every Saturday night >>>TONY GUIDA: Did a lot, some, none of your experience in directing live television, which a lot of which was news, did that translate well into you know coming to a sketch comedy show? >>>DON ROY KING: Except for directing actors and staging scenes, except for mounting one act plays, I was pretty comfortable and it did translate Certainly directing music, certainly directing fake news, came pretty easily but that whole concept of how best to tell a joke, how best to visualize what a writer is intended, how best to choreograph cameras to make sure that the story gets told in the most efficient and the funniest way possible, that took some time >>>TONY GUIDA: How many cameras on Saturday Night Live? >>>DON ROY KING: Good question and most people

would be surprised to hear we only use five >>>TONY GUIDA: Really? I’m surprised to hear that >>>DON ROY KING: Only five and one of them is a crane >>>TONY GUIDA: We have a crane >>>DON ROY KING: You’ve got a modern jib, a lovely floating camera that is operating- >>>TONY GUIDA: Which is now taking this shot and moving >>>DON ROY KING: And it’s being operated manually, it floats beautifully, it’s one man at the back of this beautiful device with a tiny little camera on the end, we instead use an old fashioned giant machine that has a driver, a cameraman in a bucket, two men who do nothing but move the arm up and down and this giant old fashioned piece of machinery slides in and out of the set. We have a brilliant operator and it does more than it should do but it basically it’s outdated and cumbersome and not nearly as versatile as what you have >>>TONY GUIDA: And you can go back to Lorne now and say, Lorne. I can save you, you know, a couple hundred thousand dollars a year. Get one of these I know where they have one >>>DON ROY KING: I said that 10 years ago. But what he says, and this is part of his brilliance, he said, the people that come into that studio and sit in the stands and watch that piece of equipment move by they say, wow This is different. This is big time old fashion show business and it feels special in the studio audience Special in a way that you never see anywhere else >>>TONY GUIDA: I can endorse that. I’ve been in the studio audience I think only once but you know even though I’m in the business I thought, oh my God. Look at this thing going from one side of the huge studio 8H to the other and it is impressive >>>DON ROY KING: And we still use cue cards and it is in some ways a very very old fashion show >>>TONY GUIDA: Well let’s talk about what I referred to as the miracles and you referred to a minute ago as climbing the mountain I mean 90 minutes of live television a week, sketch comedy in this case, is a big enough challenge but the way you guys do it, I mean, I’m surprised that we don’t have on Saturday Night at 11:30 and you turn on NBC and I’m surprised there’s no sign that says, sorry we’re not ready Talk about the process that brings this show to air >>>DON ROY KING: Well that’s another thing Lorne says We go on at 11:30. Not because we’re ready but because it’s 11:30- that’s exactly right. If you’d asked me 10 years ago can a show even be done this way I would have said absolutely not. The stakes are too high the challenge is too big. Why would it be done the way we do it and here’s what happens. The host comes in on Monday and meets with the writers. The writers, you know, it’s a half hour meeting the writers throw out an idea or two, many of which never even evolve into sketches I think it’s designed to kind of scare the host The writers come in on Tuesday, they write sometimes all night Tuesday into Wednesday Wednesday afternoon at three, maybe four o’clock, we sit around a big table and read as many as 45 sketches, script in hand >>>TONY GUIDA: First time you’re looking at potential sketches >>>DON ROY KING: That’s correct >>>TONY GUIDA: Wednesday >>>DON ROY KING: Wednesday afternoon. And that takes hours to read 45 sketches and the room was filled with other people to serve as a sort of pseudo audience so Lorne gets an idea of how it plays, just to the ear >>>TONY GUIDA: Yeah >>>DON ROY KING: And at 8:00 or 8:30 he will have narrowed it down to the twelve or thirteen will actually mount And I take those scripts into a different room and for the first time at nine o’clock the set designers and the hair and makeup people and the wardrobe people and the special effects people find out what we’re actually going to mount. Wednesday night They start from scratch Thursday we go back in and rehearse the guest band We’ll tape some promos and then a two o’clock we’ll rehearse some of the simple sketches- >>>TONY GUIDA: And we’re in Thursday afternoon and you still haven’t put actors, let’s call them, on stage in their set’s to try the bits >>>DON ROY KING: That’s correct. After we after we do some of that some of that music rehearsing we’ll rehearse simple sketches, the ones that don’t need many sets or props. We can just use rehearsal flats or old cups or something or chairs like this stick them on and get them up there And I rehearsed them, blocked them on stage first and then on camera. And each sketch gets about an hour’s work. We’ll come back in Friday, now we have a little bit more to work with and more complex sketches will get rehearsed and we spend all day, each again getting about an hour’s work And now there are starting to be a few more items on the walls and few more props for

them to handle and some stand in special effects and some smoke when we need it And then Saturday we come back in and I walk around and say where did this all come from. There’ve been set designers painting flats and floors and props have been gathered and suddenly it’s come to life. And every all of those twelve sketches have their own little atmospheres, their own little rooms, their own little environments And we then rehearse each sketch again. That takes till about five. Break for a meal, come back and rehearse, we can update for the first time. Stop again, do a dress rehearsal in front of a live audience- >>>TONY GUIDA: Right there’s dress rehearsal, run through, at like eight o’clock >>>DON ROY KING: Correct >>>TONY GUIDA: As you get to this point Wednesday, Thursday, Friday I want to know what kind of day are we talking about. Talking about ten, twelve-hour days? >>>DON ROY KING: Maybe more. Maybe, it depends on the cast at the same time is going out to do digital shorts or fake commercials and they are being bussed back and forth to take things in the field So all those field pieces are being done simultaneously with our studio work. So some people are there from eight in the morning till one in the morning >>>TONY GUIDA: OK. So it’s Saturday now and it’s eight P.M. roughly and you’re going to you’re going to do the show in what we call a dress rehearsal, a live run through but what you do is maybe two hours it’s not ninety minutes right? >>>DON ROY KING: That’s exactly right. We do as much as much as thirty minutes more material than we actually need. And we run it like a regular show with commercial holes and it feels to the studio audience like they’re seeing a real stage performance We don’t stop. And it’s fully propped and dressed and it looks like real television but in the meantime Lorne is saying well that’s sketch doesn’t work or that sketch is too long- >>>TONY GUIDA: Well this is the part that just blows my mind >>>DON ROY KING: Me too >>>TONY GUIDA: You do let’s say two hours. It’s ten o’clock at night. Thirty minutes has to be thrown away >>>DON ROY KING: Right >>>TONY GUIDA: And you’re going on the air at 11:30 >>>DON ROY KING: Correct >>>TONY GUIDA: And Lorne is in there going no, yes, no >>>DON ROY KING: Correct >>>TONY GUIDA: And you’re going oh my God What are you doing? >>>DON ROY KING: We have a meeting at 10:30 in his office where he explains to us how the show’s been reordered Up on the board we see which sketches have been killed entirely. And then I get my script back at eleven o’clock >>>TONY GUIDA: You get your script back- >>>DON ROY KING: It’s been- >>>TONY GUIDA: The final script at eleven >>>DON ROY KING: It’s been turned over to the script department. They’re writing in the changes that the writers have made even to the sketches the sketches that are staying in the show are complete, are significantly edited, changed, rewritten And I’ll say wait a minute this page is all gone. And I’ll say well there’s a new line written in here. I’ll say wait a minute this is a different ending how are we going to do that >>>TONY GUIDA: Oh my God >>>DON ROY KING: And he’s been known to recast a role between dress rehearsal and air >>>TONY GUIDA: No >>>DON ROY KING: An actor will go into a sketch- >>>TONY GUIDA: Uncle Festus in the in run through was Dan Aykroyd but now it’s- >>>DON ROY KING: But now it’s Kenan Thompson >>>TONY GUIDA: Yeah. Oh my God >>>DON ROY KING: And the cue cards have been redone to reflect all of those changes as well. And now between Wednesday and Saturday I have very meticulously blocked every single shot or every single camera angle and say you’ve got shot 42, it’s a two shot and you’ll be zooming to the man on the right. And suddenly I’ll say wait a minute- >>>TONY GUIDA: That’s all, that’s gone >>>DON ROY KING: That’s gone. And I had to have a quick camera meeting- >>>TONY GUIDA: Thirty minutes before show time and it’s gone >>>DON ROY KING: Quick camera meeting in the control room. I say alright in this sketch kill shots 22, 24, and 27 wait a minute 28’s camera two not camera one and make it a three shot. Oh wait a minute that shot’s killed. Forget it let’s go back. And it is a panic every single week. And every single week I am cursing Lorne Michaels under my breath saying why did we have to do this. Why is this change being made? Why is it so difficult to do this show? And then at one o’clock in the morning we finished and I look back and I say he was right. That was funnier that way or that new ending worked >>>TONY GUIDA: Yeah. It was funnier and you know you credit his intelligence, his comedic intelligence but- >>>DON ROY KING: Brilliance >>>TONY GUIDA: A half hour network television live that basically comes together at half an hour before it goes on? I’m thinking of what John McEnroe was famous for saying and wrote a book with this title, you cannot be serious You cannot be serious. I can’t do it that way >>>DON ROY KING: Well that’s what I said ten years ago And the fact is he is serious >>>TONY GUIDA: Have you gotten, now ten years of this,

you would you must have an endorsement with Xanax You’ve been doing- >>>DON ROY KING: When I started I was six foot two Well however it is it still is that adrenaline rush I first felt back in college. It still is just a wonderful feeling to make people laugh and clap and think and it is as a result by far the most rewarding exhilarating show I’ve ever done >>>TONY GUIDA: Let’s talk about back in college, Penn State. I think you wanted to be an actor Now theater is in your blood and you gravitated toward being on the stage right? >>>DON ROY KING: I didn’t have the guts to tell my dad I was going to be an acting major so I got into the closest thing possible, broadcasting department. But I spent most of my time in the theater. And it really wasn’t until that class I mentioned in my senior year where I said whoa I could do this and I kind of get a kick out of it. It has a sort of performing rush to it as well And so when I graduated I said the same thing I don’t have, I can’t move to New York and be a struggling actor maybe I’ll work my way in the back door and pursued a television career that kind of worked out and more of it behind the scenes than in front of the camera. But it was it still had it still had some attachment to show business and that was enough >>>TONY GUIDA: You’ve had a superb career. I just wonder given this first love acting do you think about it? Do you regret not doing more of it or do you ever think about that road not taken? >>>DON ROY KING: There was there was a time when I was directing Good Morning America and CBS this morning when I felt you know, I’ve kind of played it safe. And I’ve kind of given up on my real dream here And that but the work I was doing was challenging It was rewarding. It was in many ways enough But there was a part of me that that felt that I had kind of sold out. I got an opportunity however in the early 2000’s to direct some Broadway musicals for television. Not really direct the musicals but capture them for television and for that brief week or so where we would be actually capturing a Broadway show I felt, whoa that’s the old rush that I felt the magic of theater bring making people laugh and clap and that was the closest I had gotten at that point And suddenly in 2006 I get the opportunity to actually stage these one act sketches and be a part of a television show that is pure show business and have been pretty challenged and thrilled for ten years >>>TONY GUIDA: I’m thinking of the experience of an actor or someone with an interest in theater and some experience even though you didn’t pursue it that much. But it would seem that from that you would take at least an understanding and a gut sense of the relationship between the performer and his or her audience And I wonder if you agree with that and then how that might inform live television and what you direct in Saturday Night Live in terms of how you understand that relationship? >>>DON ROY KING: It’s an excellent observation and it’s and it’s rare so often it’s so easy when you sit in the control room to think well when I say take one the whole world sees camera one And when I say cue him that’s when he talks. You start to think of yourself of this is my show and I’m the one who’s the most important But having been on the other side and knowing a little bit about that feeling and the vulnerability and the risks that one takes when you are on camera I came to understand how important the performer is and how vulnerable he is and how important it is to keep him comfortable and happy so that he can do his best, and especially in sketch comedy I’ve approached it from the standpoint of the camera shots don’t matter if they tell the story properly And I don’t want to show off what the cameras can

do or a great angle that I can get or some quick reaction shot that is people’s say oh that’s a great shot If people are saying oh that’s a great shot then they’re being pulled out of the story. They’re being distracted from the purpose of, the through line of the sketch and I’ve become much less intrusive as a director. And- >>>TONY GUIDA: Less is more >>>DON ROY KING: Absolutely I’m much more sensitive to the issues of a performer and the risks that he or she is taking >>>TONY GUIDA: Let’s talk about a performer in your family You didn’t reach that goal but your daughter, Cameron, is a senior at what the performing arts- >>>DON ROY KING: She’s at LaGuardia High School, the Fame School, and she is a senior thriving and in the drama department. And I could not be more proud of just her getting in but doing well is- >>>TONY GUIDA: And doing well at what? Does she want to be an actress? Does she want to act I guess is what I’m saying or does she want to do some other part of the business- >>>DON ROY KING: She’s a pretty good actress She’s a remarkable actress for an eighteen-year-old girl but after her sophomore year she said daddy I don’t think I want to be an actor. I think I want to be a director >>>TONY GUIDA: No >>>DON ROY KING: I started to puff up a little bit and she said but not like you. I want to be a real director >>>TONY GUIDA: Oh really What is a real director? >>>DON ROY KING: A real director directs actors on stage not that T.V. comedy stuff. I love that independence and that teenage arrogance and I am thrilled and that’s kind of the way she’s headed. I’m proud that I’ve taken her exposed her to a lot of theater over the years >>>TONY GUIDA: Oh sure >>>DON ROY KING: But she’ll turn to me in at intermission and say Dad I think that first song was a little too long and they didn’t develop the relationship between the Father and the daughter in a way that that justifies what happens afterwards >>>TONY GUIDA: Wow >>>DON ROY KING: I’ll say Yeah. I think yeah I think you’re right >>>TONY GUIDA: She’s a director. That’s great >>>DON ROY KING: And she loves the whole process from the first written word to the strike at the end of the runs Just has that love of theater and that makes me happy too >>>TONY GUIDA: Well I hope she gets the program she wants at the next level college and- >>>DON ROY KING: I hope she’s- >>>TONY GUIDA: I look for her- >>>DON ROY KING: I hope you’re interviewing her here soon >>>TONY GUIDA: I’d be happy to. Send her this way That’s marvelous. Live theater you know for those of us in New York we have so much, whether Broadway, off Broadway or far off Broadway. And you see such interesting, marvelous, thought provoking, lousy, in some cases, production But there it is people are creating allusions on stage all over the city every night and it’s just extraordinary, the culture we have And to be part of it even in our distances I’m delighted >>>DON ROY KING: I couldn’t agree more First time I came to New York I grew up near a little suburb of Pittsburgh and got hooked on acting in eighth grade. My eighth grade dramatics teacher, Ms. Anne Bowden, ran the curtain call club and that was her life. And every Easter she would bring two or three students to New York for a little weekend trip Got to see some Broadway shows and do a little tour of New York. And I was in eighth grade and came with Ms. Bowden and three ninth grade girls and we went to see The Sound of Music and Miracle Worker. And I developed this teenage crush on New York and particularly Broadway I can’t wait to get back here and to be a part of the magic that’s in that theater in those streets- >>>TONY GUIDA: Well let’s talk a little bit before we run out of time. You’re the creative director of a Broadway worldwide which does what? Bring plays and theater to television >>>DON ROY KING: Correct. Yeah >>>TONY GUIDA: You did Memphis >>>DON ROY KING: Correct Smokey Joe’s Café, Jekyll and Hyde >>>TONY GUIDA: Is there a production being mounted now for Broadway worldwide. I mean is there something being translated >>>DON ROY KING: There are things being talked about all the time. It’s a very complex procedure and so far they haven’t made much money. They were designed to be pay per view and it was hard to convince people that pay per view was worth paying money for plays- >>>TONY GUIDA: When I saw that in your background I was so wishing that this would work and work

dramatically well because I remember an experience, I remember many experiences, but one in the theater The original Glengarry Glen Ross. I saw it on Broadway and one of the few time maybe the only time. When that ended, when the thing, the final scene and you know I hate this job I sat there stunned. People were applauding. I couldn’t get up. And all what I want, what I’m trying to say is I would love to see that production again That production. You know on tape- >>>DON ROY KING: And you never will >>>TONY GUIDA: And we never will >>>DON ROY KING: You’re absolutely right. And it’s not just capturing for posterity It’s also that millions of people around the world would love to see that kind of theater. But they can’t get to New York. And this gives them the second, the next best thing. We can take you into the theater and put you in the best seat in the house and give you a sense of live theater and the magic that creates and the visceral gut wrenching opportunities to be a part of theater >>>TONY GUIDA: I have to ask you finally. The after show parties, are they as wild as the papers make them sound >>>DON ROY KING: Wait a minute there’s an after show party I didn’t know, nobody told me that >>>TONY GUIDA: OK We’ve been talking- >>>DON ROY KING: I’ve never been invited I’ve never gone to one >>>TONY GUIDA: Really >>>DON ROY KING: I’m a little bit beat by one >>>TONY GUIDA: I can imagine Don Roy King it is such a delight to have you here and to hear take us back stage at Saturday Night Live. Thank you so much >>>DON ROY KING: My pleasure. I enjoyed it. Thanks Tony ♪ [Theme Music] ♪