Is life imitating art at 'SNL'?

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When NBC unveiled its plans to have not one but two prime-time shows this season loosely based on its own long-running late-night sketch comedy show, many wondered how the two would fare. Few wondered if all the attention paid to the new shows would affect "Saturday Night Live." But with Aaron Sorkin and Tina Fey both putting their own particular spins on creating a show about a show, it seems we're all just a bit more interested in the original.

The "SNL" season premiere Sept. 30, hosted by comedian Dane Cook, drew 6.7 million viewers, compared with the 6.6 million who tuned in for last year's premiere. Even better, it drew more viewers this year in the 18- to 49-year-old demo. That's good news for NBC and, coincidentally, mirrors what happened on a recent episode of Sorkin's "Studio 60," when the fictional NBS entertainment president, played by Amanda Peet, congratulated the staff on a much-needed ratings uptick.

While "Studio 60" is an hour-long drama that deals with semiserious issues such as censorship and the bravery of writers who lampoon the president of the U.S., the half-hour "30 Rock" is expected to be played strictly for laughs. Tina Fey, head writer for "SNL" who left to create "30 Rock," has even poked fun in promos about how her show is not the one with the high profile, telling a disappointed Alec Baldwin, her co-star, that he won't be working with Amanda Peet. Her version makes its debut Oct. 11.

"Studio 60" has taken a tumble off its first outing. The show, which premiered to 13.4 million viewers, dropped to 8.9 million in its third week.

"SNL," meanwhile, is no doubt grateful for the boost. Facing massive budget cuts, the show this year dropped veteran cast members such as Chris Parnell and Horatio Sanz, and "30 Rock" claimed Rachel Dratch as well as Fey. That puts a lot more pressure on Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers to deliver. NBC has big plans for its "SNL" website, however, including backstage video views of how the real show is put together. Hey, maybe they can turn that into a show!
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