In one of the season's most anticipated premiers, viewers and pundits alike waited anxiously to see how NBC's 'Saturday Night Live' would cover the first presidential debate.

Satire has long played a part of the political process. St. Edward's University Political Science Professor Brian Smith explained, "For some candidates it's a blessing, for some it's an actual curse."

President Gerald Ford was the first commander-in-chief parodied by SNL, which turned a real life fall the Yale graduate and football standout suffered deplaning Air Force One into a slapstick routine performed by Chevy Chase.

"We're talking about a very bright, athletic person, and Chevy Chase made him into a bumbling guy," said Smith, "And that, then, became the narrative."

"Other examples: 2000," added Smith. "Saturday Night Live does a great job going after George W. Bush, really making George W. Bush look like a Texas rube, and when Bush exceeds that bar in the debates, it actually helped Bush out."

The show was less helpful to Democratic nominee Al Gore, whose yawns, stiff pedantry and "lock box" catchword were expertly parodied by Darrell Hammond.

The best known parody of all blurred the line with reality, when Tina Fey, playing Republican running mate Sarah Palin, claimed, "I can see Russia from my house!"

"America by and large believed that was a direct Palin quote," said Smith. "So in this case, the Saturday Night Live skit became the reality, and then Sarah Palin, the person, became Tina Fey. And for Palin, she was never able to break away from that, and they just had a field day with her."

So just how much does it affect elections' outcomes?

"When it's all said and done, people still vote on their party ID," said Smith. Not surprisingly, party identification also determines how funny viewers think the skit is. "But what candidates can get themselves in trouble with is if the funny narrative, the satire or the humor then becomes the actual discourse."

And with this year's material, there's plenty of opportunity for trouble ahead.