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Lorne Michaels sketches ‘SNL’ alternative online

If you can’t wait for “Saturday Night Live” to return in the fall, Lorne Michaels has given some of its cast members and writers a summer home.

The “SNL” executive producer’s production company, Broadway Video, quietly launched a YouTube channel last week with episodic comedic shorts that have featured Bill Hader ( “The Front Desk“), Abby Elliott (“The Assistant“) and Kenan Thompson (“Cool Kids’ Table“), and there’s more of their colleagues on the way if the highlight reel above is any indication.

Broadway Video and NBC declined to comment on what exactly the Above Average Network is because it is currently in beta, with an official launch expected later this summer.

It’s tempting to assume given the timing of the AAN launch so closely on the heels of the departure of Andy Samberg that “SNL” might be plotting something that could take the place of his “Digital Shorts” segments. It might be smart for “SNL” to cross-pollinate with a digital-native franchise considering the Internet has been not only a key driver of the series’ revitalization in recent years by re-circulating sketches for viral consumption online but a home for sketches that get cut from the broadcast. Hell, Samberg’s “Lazy Sunday” sketch has been credited for helping put YouTube on the map.

But sources explained AAN is an entirely separate venture from “SNL” and not a breeding ground for ideas or talent that could end up on the late-night series. “Digital Shorts” could conceivably continue without Samberg as well.

That said, it’s not like AAN is somehow being setting up to compete with “SNL,” either. Some of the segments are even being cross-promoted on NBC.com because the network is entitled to exhibit anything with the “SNL” talent per NBC’s contractual agreements with the show’s cast members.

Also on the way is a parody of USA Network dramas called “Hooker Lawyer,” which shouldn’t take much imagination to understand its premise, and “Puppet High,” which as you might expect, features puppets in high school. Michaels’ calls in talent from other shows produced by Broadway Video as well, including John Lutz from “30 Rock,” who appears in “Front Desk.” So far AAN segments have the kind of absurdist tone of the skits “SNL” usually puts on after 12:30 a.m. when they aren’t interested in getting a third performance out of their musical guest.

Broadway Video has dabbled online before. Hader starred in a terrific series of shorts called “The Line” in 2008. More recently, “SNL” writer Mike O’Brien hosted his own talk show featuring celebrity guests chatting with him inside a closet called “7 Minutes in Heaven.”

Lorne-ologists might recall that Above Average was the name of the production company he started in the late 1970s to launch extra-curricular programs like Beatles parody “The Rutles.” The title of the network could offer some hint that Michaels knows from his own experience how difficult it can be to break new ground in comedy outside “SNL.” When he left the series he founded for a five-year spell beginning in 1980, he tried to launch another NBC sketch program, “The New Show,” that lasted only nine episodes.

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