There is little doubt political satire has changed the game for Saturday Night Live this season — lending a new urgency and relevance to the typically uneven 33-year-old late-night comedy show. With critical raves for former castmate Tina Fey's dead-on Sarah Palin impersonation and ratings 50 percent higher than last year, SNL is expanding the franchise through live, half-hour bursts of the show's political humor on Thursdays, starting this week. As a preview, here's a quick look at how SNL's political jibes have changed the game for politicians at key moments in the country's history. President Ford the klutz | 1975
Chevy Chase's take on a bumbling President Gerald Ford in 1975, inspired by Ford hitting his head while getting out of a helicopter, became the series' first landmark impression — though Chase looked and sounded nothing like the guy he was spoofing.
The impact: Besides crystallizing the most athletic president as a klutz, Chase's Ford proved SNL's political impressions were mostly about nailing the politician's public image (see Dan Aykroyd as Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter). Chase turned the public's anger over a president who pardoned his impeached predecessor into a case for Ford as history's biggest boob.
Dukakis comes up short | 1988
SNL's take on the 1988 presidential debates offered Dana Carvey as a jittery George H.W. Bush and Jon Lovitz as a forklift riding Michael Dukakis with a bad haircut.
The impact: Blew up Dukakis as a height-challenged technocrat who couldn't combat Bush's blizzard of talking points — in a telling moment, Lovitz-as-Dukakis turns to the camera and says "I can't believe I'm losing to this guy." The real-life Dukakis went on to, indeed, lose to that guy.
Clueless Bush, awkward Gore | 2000
SNL's 2000 presidential debate satire showcased Will Ferrell as George W. Bush and Darrell Hammond as Al Gore.
The impact: Both Ferrell and Hammond nailed their respective impressions, capturing Bush's clueless fumbling (coining the phrase "strategery") and Gore's awkward earnestness (mentioning a proposed Social Security "lock box" about 30 times). Indeed, the sketch's image of Gore as unlikably stiff was reportedly used by his own staff to loosen him up for future debates. Whether it worked is another debate.
This year Palin pay dirt
Tinay Fey, above, summed up Palin's image as a foreign policy lightweight last month with the line, "I can see Russia from my house."
The impact: At times, Palin seemed to embody Fey's impression during last Thursday's vice presidential debates, offering so many folksy phrases ("doggone it" and "you betcha" were faves), some critics noted Alaska's governor sounded like an SNL skit yet to be written. Which may be the highest compliment yet for Fey and the show. Babying Barack
A February sketch featured Fred Armisen, above, as Barack Obama babied during a debate by fawning journalists, who shrugged off Amy Poehler's Hillary Clinton.
The impact: The real Hillary Clinton referenced the sketch three days later during a real debate, saying "maybe we should ask Barack if he's comfortable and wants another pillow." Tougher media vetting of Obama followed, curiously enough.