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‘SNL’s King Compares Directing Live TV to Being a QB #LiveTV

Don Roy King may have been the director for NBC’s Saturday Night Live since 2006, but he has helmed live television since 1969, and he likens captaining a live broadcast to how he used to feel during his high school football days.

“That feeling is more like when I was in high school playing quarterback,” said King during B&C/Multichannel’s Live TV Summit on Tuesday. “The adrenaline rush was the same.”

One moment that sticks out to King after all these years is one that sticks out to every American: the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. King was directing CBS’ The Early Show at the time.

King remembers shortly after the conclusion of the morning shoot, he was told that they had to do an update for the west coast airing; immediately he knew that some type of breaking news had occurred.

“We had several cameras mounted on buildings nearby,” he remembered. “Coincidently, they both had views of the World Trade Center.” He said one of them was already focused on the North Tower where the first plane hit.

During a phone interview that host Bryant Gumbel had with an eyewitness, he remembers the second plane hitting during the conversation. “Suddenly the eyewitness screamed ‘oh my god, there is another plane!’”

King said that day – which everyone worked in 12-hour shifts as the network stayed live throughout the day in breaking news coverage – was the hardest day he ever had in directing live television. “For the first time in my career, the knot in my stomach was not adrenaline, it was fear,” he said. “Live TV was never more agonizing or more grueling.”

King detailed Saturday Night Live’s well-known hectic production schedule. Besides a quick meeting with the host on Monday, King says nothing is on paper until Wednesday’s read-through, which can contain up to 45 sketches. “It takes hours to do that.”

King says executive producer Lorne Michaels will then select around 12-13 for King and the rest of the crew to begin setting up.

After a few run-throughs on Thursday and Friday – the first time all week that “Weekend Update” will be rehearsed – they will finally set the order of the sketches. King said the 8 p.m. dress rehearsal on Saturday before the live show contains about 20 minutes of extra material.

“At 10:15 p.m., Lorne throws out 3-4 sketches,” said King. “Every other one has been edited or rewritten in some fashion.” At 11:30 p.m., the show goes live.

After nearly 50 years in the fast-paced world of live television, King says he still feels the same as he did on the first day. “45 years later I still have that feeling; I still get that adrenaline rush.”