I remember when there used to be original programming on network TV on Saturday night – “The Carol Burnett Show” aired on Saturday nights for a while, and so did “The Golden Girls,” and “The Love Boat,” and “Fantasy Island,” and so on. But as viewing habits changed, and cable programming increased, Saturday viewership declined, and now the networks largely program Saturday night with reruns of shows that aired earlier in the week, and sometimes with news programming.
Tonight, and I can’t recall noticing this in the past, NBC has an edited-down “Saturday Night Live” rerun from earlier in the season airing from 9-10 (Central), not long before tonight’s original SNL episode at 10:30. This seems an unusual choice, but perhaps NBC thinks that the prime time rerun will serve as promotion for the original episode.
VH1 already airs two recent prior-season reruns on Saturday night, so if you were so inclined you could have watched three hours of SNL reruns tonight, as a warmup for the original episode.
Is that promotion or overkill? I’m not sure. NBC has also been rerunning the documentaries about the various eras of the show’s history on Sunday nights.
The VH1 reruns, and NBC’s prime-time rerun, are all edited from the original 90 minutes down to 60. Since almost every SNL episode contains some gristle, this usually makes the 60-minute episodes seem more entertaining, even if they lack the urgency and topicality of the live episode. In this case, though, it’s not as if we’re comparing different eras of the show; I don’t know which seasons VH1 has the rights to air, but most of the episodes they actually run are recent enough that the episodes include many of the same cast members.
Interestingly enough, the 60-minute reruns on VH1 alter the show’s original running order by putting the musical guest after Weekend Update, while the 60-minute rerun on NBC tonight had the musical guest right before Update, just as it is in the live show. (In any case, the 60-minute versions generally have only one of the musical act’s two performances.)
SNL, of course, has the continual problem of competing with its own cast. Depending on your age and demographic, what you consider the show’s “golden age” was derided, on its original airing, as unfunny and unworthy of comparison with the original Not Ready For Prime Time Players. In one sense, nothing can compare with that original cast, if only because they were unlike anything else on network television up to that time. But even the original cast had unfunny episodes and bad sketches. The show has had its ups and downs ever since, but even the worst seasons have some funny stuff, and even the best seasons have misfires. It’s the nature of putting together 90 minutes of original comedy in one week’s time. And, since SNL usually seeks to reach the youth market, as codgers like me get older we’re less likely to get all of the cultural references. That’s as it should be. I still remember the first time SNL had a host that I not only wasn’t familiar with but hadn’t even heard of. And for someone who is sometimes over-saturated in pop culture, that’s saying something. Anyway, it made me feel old.
I’ll be interested to see if NBC keeps up the prime-time SNL experiment.