“Live from New York! It’s Betty White…and David Mathews!”
Get to know more about the person behind the online push to get Betty White to helm “SNL”
Way back in 2009, many of us were just getting the hang of interactive social media platforms like Facebook. Remember when we used to post up in third person?
Billy Smith “is thinking about getting dinner.”
Alonzo Dale “will be spending time with my kids all weekend.”
Well, David Mathews, then from Texas, figured out firsthand how to harness the power of social media for fun. He ended up changing TV history and getting to know Betty White a little along the way.
“Now in Facebook memories I see that I made a post I think on December 8 (2009) that said something like “Betty White should really host ‘SNL’,” Mathews recalls.
And, as we know, Betty White went on to do just that. There are plenty of online clips of her May 8, 2010 stint as host of “Saturday Night Live.” Some of Miss White’s moments on the show even live on these days as pretty well regarded classic “SNL” sketches. And the episode, which featured musical guest Jay-Z, has been rebroadcast a few times and is now available on some streaming platforms.
For those who don’t remember, and a few of us who do, here’s how David Mathews’ Facebook post came to fruition live from New York.
As New Year’s Eve 2009 got closer, Mathews and his husband, Eddie Vandermark were doing some traveling and made a stop in Washington, DC where they met up with a college pal of Vandermark’s. As the topic of Betty White arose, Mathews and the pal made a bet that if Mathews started an online Facebook petition to get Betty White to host “SNL,” that garnered 2,000 “likes”, he would write a letter to “SNL” producer Lorne Micheals asking that he consider inviting her to host an episode.
Mathews and Vandermark started the petition December 31, 2009. It was called “Betty White to host SNL (please?)!”.
They picked up about 200 followers in a few days. By the first week of February 2010, the petition for Betty White was beginning to pick up steam with a bit over 5,000 “likes” – more than enough to win the original bet.
True to his word, Mathews fired off a letter to Lorne Michaels. Then, “USA Today” and Perez Hilton picked up the story. At around the same time, a now-famous, hilarious Snickers commercial which featured Miss White became a hot watercooler commercial conversation topic the morning after the January 31, 2010 SuperBowl game between the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts.
And a full on media sensation was born.
“It was just the right idea for the right person at the right time,” Mathews surmises.
“For the next month and a half, we were sort of like G-list celebrities. We were booked on every news show: CBS, Diane Sawyer, radio stations from around the nation and the world” Mathews, who is a senior manager of curriculum development in the federal government contracting workspace, recalls of the heady time.
“I’d step out of the classroom and do a telephone interview from a supply closet,” he laughs.
Though the petition is sometimes given a lot of credit for the Betty White career renaissance of the 2010s, Mathews is quick to point out that Betty White didn’t especially need the “SNL” gig.
White’s super hilarious turn in the 2009 comedy feature “The Proposal” had already been released.
Also, Miss White picked up a Screen Actors’ Guild Lifetime Achievement award. And she did make that hilarious Snickers commercial.
“The Betty White wave had already begun. Maybe the online campaign was successful because that renaissance had already begun. I think that’s the likeliest answer,” he figures.
Vandermark recalls that he and his husband were suddenly much in demand because of the magnitude of the Facebook campaign’s reach. It did go on to get about 650,000 likes and followers. Everybody, it seemed at the time, was calling on them. Everybody but NBC and “SNL.”
Turns out, harnessing the vast power of social media to deliver a TV superstar to host a long-running late night variety show doesn’t necessarily get you a ticket to that show.
“There was a subsequent page that got started “Send David Mathews to ‘SNL’ please,” Vandermark said.
Mathews explained that he was being interviewed by MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell, who asked Mathews if he’d been given tickets to see the Betty White hosted “SNL” taping which had finally been announced. Mathews replied “not yet.” And O’Donnell, feeling his network family oats said “well now you have.”
Pretty soon thereafter, Mathews and Vandermark heard from an “SNL” producer that there might not be room for them to be present at the taping after all.
Fortunately for the pair, “SNL” finally caved and coughed up tickets to the studio audience taping. Mathews and Vandermark bought flights and hotels and made their way to Studio 8-H and watched as Betty White killed it on stage during the show.
They did get an invitation to meet Betty White backstage after the show. And nothing was gonna hold Mathews back from that.
“It was super surreal. We were in this tiny little hallway backstage. And it’s super crowded, all with celebrities. Matthew Broderick, Penny Marshall, Maya Rudolph, Sigourney Weaver were like inches from me…” Vandermark recalls.
Maybe she should have backed off a little though.
“Once they finally said, ‘hey come on back and meet Betty White,’ Sigourney Weaver was coming out and as soon as they said that David basically accidentally tackled Sigourney Weaver and pushed her out of the way,” Vandermark recalls.
“It’s on video. It’s there. It definitely happened. But tackled is maybe a bit of a stretch” a sheepish Mathews laughs.
In the press run-up to her “SNL” debut, Betty White joked on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” that given the chance, if she met Mathews she’d like to hit him.
Once Mathews finally did get to meet White, he offered a mea culpa and asked her which cheek she’d like to slap him on.
Then, Mathews says, the Betty White we all know and love took over.
“You know I did up until this moment,” Mathews recalls White saying to him. “But now that you’re here I just want to hug you and say thank you,” he recalls of her words.
Mathews and Vandermark went on to meet up with Betty White twice more through her appearances fundraising for the Morris Animal Foundation.
“It all happened too quickly. But it was a great experience,” Mathews says of his whirlwind Betty White ride.
Today, he thinks fondly of his unique connection to the First Lady of US Television. And he joins her millions of fans around the world who want more time with her.
“What a life goal to live to be 99.9 years old and have people still think it ended too soon,” Mathews said.