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How President Trump's Election Sent SNL Scrambling

It's probably safe to say, given its bonkers production schedule, that the staff of "Saturday Night Live" is always scrambling. There's only six days to create, practice, and air a topical 90-minute episode from scratch each week — and they never know what might happen to throw their plans out of whack.

The "SNL" week starts with a pitch meeting on Monday, per E! News, with writers, cast, guest host, and producer Lorne Michaels. Tuesday is a long — often 24-hours — workday of writing and fleshing out 30-40 sketches. After Wednesday's table read, Michaels decides the potential order of the 10-15 surviving skits. Thursday starts production on sets and costumes, while edits continue as the director blocks rehearsals. Pre-taped sketches, like shorts and ad parodies, are filmed Friday and edited overnight. Even on Saturday, changes and cuts continue through two rehearsals, one with a live audience — and even as "SNL" airs live, to keep the show under 90 minutes. So "scrambling" is a way of life for these professionals.

But a different kind of scrambling happened for the November 12, 2016, episode. That Tuesday was election day, and the writers, and most of the country, assumed Hillary Clinton would win. As it became clear that the hugely controversial (to say the least) Donald Trump would be the next president, the "SNL" staff had to figure out how best to capture the emotional state of its viewers, as well as its cast and crew.

SNL completely changed their cold open sketch on November 12, 2016

With their writing day also a big news day, the "Saturday Night Live" writers had to pivot quickly. "There was no way to know what the country will be feeling like on Saturday, let alone Thursday or Friday," said writer Chris Kelly, via Esquire.

Kelly and cowriters Kent Sublette and Sarah Schneider knew they had a difficult balance to strike for the episode. As star Kate McKinnon said, "no matter what side you were on, it was a moment of surprise and high-octane emotion," so it was important to approach the subject delicately. Fortunately that week's host, Dave Chappelle, told them, "if it feels like something true you want to put out there at this moment, it doesn't matter if it's funny. Just trust what you want to put out there." That sentiment caused Chappelle trouble later, but it worked for now.

With the news of songwriter Leonard Cohen's death on that Thursday, the writers went with their idea of McKinnon singing his 1984 song "Hallelujah," dressed as Hillary Clinton, a role she'd portrayed since 2013. They found a rarely-sung verse that, Schneider said, "really felt like the perfect distillation of what we wanted to say." With McKinnon's adlibbed closing statement, "I'm not giving up, and neither should you," it was the perfect tone for the day — and became one of McKinnon's most revered moments on the show.