‘Norm Macdonald Has a Show’ Takes Flight

Norm Macdonald Has a Show is live on Netflix, the zany Macdonald hosting the likes of Drew Barrymore, David Spade and David Letterman, Letterman getting additional billing as “location scout” for the program.

Macdonald singled out Letterman as a motivator to give Netflix a shot, Letterman premiering My Guest Needs No Introduction on the platform in January. Letterman did not want an executive producer title, Macdonald told me, and would suggest a variety of other titles instead. One of them—second best boy.

Lorne Michaels is another guest, popping up in episode 10. Macdonald and Michaels know each other from Macdonald’s time on Saturday Night Live from 1993 to 1998, which saw him host “Weekend Update.”

“I always felt Lorne was shown in the media as very cold and aloof,” said Macdonald. “I know him as a really funny guy. I want to show that side of him.”

Michaels has been a key sounding board whenever Macdonald is considering a project. “Anytime I have something, I always call Lorne,” he said. “He steadies me.”

One memorable role on Saturday Night Live for Macdonald was playing Burt Reynolds, who died Sept. 6, on Jeopardy, with Will Ferrell playing Alex Trebek. Macdonald said he discussed with Michaels how best to play Reynolds. Michaels offered a costume showing modern-day Reynolds, with gray hair—“BoogieNights Burt Reynolds,” said Macdonald. “I wanted to do ‘70s Burt Reynolds.”

Macdonald said he and Reynolds later discussed the funnyman’s portrayal of the film star. Reynolds enjoyed Macdonald’s depiction of him, and suggested he turn up on SNL, and punch the fake Burt Reynolds out, then continue the skit as the real Burt Reynolds.

Then Macdonald got fired from SNL. “It would’ve happened for sure,” he said.

He’s still a fan of SNL, saying he hadn’t really missed an episode since childhood. He puts Letterman’s late-night shows in the same rare category.

Norm Macdonald Has a Show has a pretty good lineup of guests that includes Judge Judy Sheindlin, Jane Fonda, Chevy Chase, M. Night Shyamalan and Michael Keaton. One name I didn’t recognize was Billy Joe Shaver. Macdonald describes him as “an outlaw country singer” and his best friend.

“He’s not famous,” said Macdonald. “He should be famous.”

Macdonald mentions talk show veterans such as Dick Cavett and Tom Snyder—old-school broadcasters with a natural rapport with guests—as his influences. He said there won’t be a monologue, though he’ll read jokes off cards. “Sometimes people will laugh, sometimes they won’t,” he said.

The program starts as the guest walks onto the set and gets their mike clipped on. “The guests never quite know when they’re on the air,” said Macdonald.

Macdonald got in a bit of trouble this week, defending his friends Louis C.K. and Roseanne Barr after their transgressions—C.K.’s involving sexual misconduct, Barr for a racist tweet. He also made a crack about Down Syndrome on The Howard Stern Show that he apologized for. Macdonald said his show won’t touch on topical issues so it will remain timely in the Netflix vault.

Besides Letterman, Macdonald said Ted Sarandos, Netflix chief content officer, pushed him to do a show on Netflix. “Now I’m of the age,” he said, “when these guys liked me when they were kids.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.