SNL Cue Cards: Behind the Scenes With Wally Feresten [Podcast] cover

SNL Cue Cards: Behind the Scenes With Wally Feresten [Podcast]

Is there any creativity behind cue card production? On today’s podcast episode, Wally Feresten, iconic cue card writer “Saturday Night Live” (SNL) and “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” sits down with NOT REAL ART host and publisher Scott “Sourdough” Power to discuss the artistry behind his longrunning craft. “You're not supposed to work on the same TV show for 34 years plus and still going,” says Wally, reflecting on his storied career behind the camera. “How lucky is that?”

In the episode, Wally reflects on his relationship with hosts and performers, stressing the importance of rapport and discussing the unforeseen inventiveness brought about by COVID-19 restrictions. He also discusses his wildly successful pandemic-era business, Cue Cards by Wally, which offers fans personalized messages handwritten on showbiz-style cue cards. Our conversation rounds out with Wally’s insights into the benefits of a supportive work environment and the significant but often overlooked role of cue cards in live TV production.

SNL Cue Cards: Episode Table Of Contents

Life and Work During COVID-19

During the pandemic, Wally brought smiles to fan faces by writing cue cards with personalized messages of hope and love. The simplicity and personal touch of a handwritten cue card struck a chord with many around the globe—Wally has sent his creations to 15 different countries and every state in the U.S. This endeavor not only spread joy but also demonstrated the resilience and adaptability of creative professionals in challenging times.

During this time, Seth Meyers supported his employees by paying them out of his pocket, while Wally’s wife secured a PPP loan to help their staff—powerful examples of leadership and commitment. This pivot to remote productions, and later a return with limited crew, demonstrated the entertainment industry's ability to innovate and persevere.

The Craft of Cue Cards

In an exploration of his craft, Wally chats about the specifics of cue card preparation, which is a deceptively intricate process. Selecting the right card stock and using coated cards for a specific kind of ink are among the nuances involved in their creation. He also discusses an innovative practice he adopted during the pandemic—a sponge attached to a face shield to wet his finger, a method that gained popularity and appreciation. These details highlight Wally's commitment to his work and the often-overlooked complexity in seemingly simple tasks.

Even in the fast-paced world of TV production, many actors and industry personalities, from late-night hosts to celebrity guests, prefer traditional cue cards over teleprompters. This preference has kept the practice alive and thriving, proving that sometimes traditional methods work best even in the modern era.

On SNL, Christopher Walken once said he thought a used cue card—splattered with paint—should be framed. Wally’s story about Walken challenges listeners to reconsider what constitutes art in contemporary culture. The idea that a used, overlooked piece of production equipment could be seen as art opens the door to ingenuity, creativity, and boundless possibility.

Creative Response to Strikes and Show Billing

Our conversation with Wally takes a deep dive into the logistics of show business, particularly the impact of strikes on the entertainment industry. Wally shares his perspectives on the strikes and how they affect production, emphasizing the importance of avoiding such disruptions. Additionally, he outlines the billing processes for his services, which cover show-by-show or weekly billing. This kind of insider knowledge gives our listeners a peek behind the curtain of the entertainment industry, showcasing the less glamorous but essential parts of creative productions.

During the strikes, Wally stayed committed to his employees, ensuring they were paid fairly and on time. As he shares in today’s episode, maintaining a functioning team is crucial; ensuring their welfare translates to better performances and smoother shows.

Community and Networking in Entertainment

As Wally demonstrates, maintaining relationships and building a community are essential in the entertainment business. His relationships are built on a foundation of mutual respect and friendship, something he shares with longtime industry pal Seth Meyers. It's a powerful reminder of shared humanity in the entertainment industry, which relies heavily on personal interactions and connections to function. Wally’s career demonstrates that “being nice” can significantly impact your career trajectory and personal satisfaction.

Wrap Up

Our conversation with Wally offers listeners insight into the inner workings of TV production and the subtle artistry involved in creating cue cards. His journey from aspiring writer to a key figure behind the scenes of America's leading talk shows is a testament to the unexpected places our passions lead us.

Wally Ferensten: Website | Instagram

Want to be featured on NOT REAL ART? Email editor@notrealart.com with a short introduction and a link to your online portfolio or three images of your work.

Scott "Sourdough" Power

Scott “Sourdough” Power is the the creator and executive producer of NotRealArt.com. He is also the co-founder of Crewest Studio a digital media company in Los Angeles dedicated to creative culture and the $2T creative economy.