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NOTE: I will be liveblogging the “Saturday Night Live” 40th anniversary prime time special at this website Sunday night.
I have really enjoyed VH1 Classic’s “SNL Rewind,” a rerun of the vast majority of “Saturday Night Live” in reverse chronological order (except for a few themed programming blocks) over the past week or two, in preparation for the show’s 40th anniversary special on Sunday night.
One thing I’ve noticed (and I didn’t necessarily see all of these episodes during “SNL Rewind” – in some cases, I was just reminded of them) is that at certain points in the show’s history, they’ve been willing to monkey around with the format a little bit. Some of these variations were things I wish they’d revive – at least every now and then:
Onscreen graphics: I loved the little bumpers they ran during the original years of the show when going to commercial (“COMING UP: Is Roy Rogers Trigger-Happy?”), especially the ones where they’d zoom in on some unsuspecting audience member and put something on screen like “Won’t put out until the third date.”
Show-long running gags: As much as people malign the Dick Ebersol years, when Lorne Michaels wasn’t running the show, one thing they did well during that time was have fun with the format of the show itself. This included things like the extended coverage of Buckwheat being shot or the telephone poll over whether or not to boil and eat Larry The Lobster. They had an episode with multiple hosts. There was even a little of this during the show’s original run – such as the “anyone can host” contest.
The ill-fated first season of Lorne’s return – the one with Randy Quaid, Robert Downey Jr. and Joan Cusack – included an episode like this, based around the conceit that SNL had brought in Francis Ford Coppola to direct.
Standup or specialty performers: Some older SNL episodes had not only a musical guest but a comedy guest. Andy Kaufman, Joel Hodgson and even Harry Anderson appeared on SNL this way. I don’t suggest that they get a different run-of-the-mill standup comedian every week, but the occasional unique comedy talent would be better than another iteration of “What’s Up With That?” or whatever running sketch they’re running into the ground this week.
Trying new things in general: The Ebersol years had – and I had forgotten this – occasional segments similar to Jay Leno’s or Jimmy Kimmel’s man-on-the-street segments. I’m actually not advising that they do this specifically, but an occasional piece of unscripted comedy, taking advantage of SNL’s New York City location, might not be a bad thing.
There’s a lot of hand-wringing in some quarters that says the show as it is currently composed is doomed – it’s no longer appointment television because everyone knows that if something really funny happens, you can simply go online and watch the clip of that individual sketch the next day. There’s been some talk that whenever Lorne decides to retire, the show will go with him. But I think they should at least see if new hands could bring a fresh approach, and a willingness to play around with the format. If that happens, people might feel the need to watch the show live again.
Well, with both Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake booked for last night’s “Saturday Night Live” the main question was whether they’d do “The Barry Gibb Talk Show” even though one of the characters, Robin Gibb, has passed away in real life.
I was thrilled when I heard the music from “Nights on Broadway,” the Bee Gees hit that Fallon and Timberlake parody as the “Barry Gibb Talk Show” theme song. But then, a few seconds later, the heavy rainfall knocked out my DirecTV signal.
I wondered for a second whether the real-life Barry Gibb would be offended by the skit – or, more specifically, by the portrayal of his brother. But then I saw my friends online saying that the real-life Barry Gibb had made a cameo appearance in the skit.
I had figured all along that if Barry Gibb ever made an appearance on “The Barry Gibb Talk Show,” it would go something like the time Joe Pesci and Robert DeNiro crashed “The Joe Pesci Show” or the time that Mark Wahlberg threatened Andy Samberg the week after Samberg had appeared in “Mark Wahlberg Talks To Animals.” That is to say, the real-life star shows up, defends himself and declares that he doesn’t behave or sound anything like the character in the skit. Then, for purposes of comedy, the real-life star gradually starts behaving like the character in the skit.
But Barry didn’t interact with Fallon and Timberlake at all – he just sang with them, popping up unannounced during the closing theme song. Instead, it was Madonna (another unannounced cameo) dressing down Fallon-as-Barry-Gibb.
Even so, it was pretty funny – and would have been a nice surprise if I’d been able to watch live.
It’s not really fair to the real Eydie Gorme, a great talent, but all the reports of her death make me want to look at the old “Sinatra Group” sketch from SNL. The sketch is a parody of the PBS news pundit show “The McLaughlin Group,” only hosted by Frank Sinatra (Phil Hartman). Hartman gets to utter the immortal line “I got chunks of guys like you in my stool.”
Mike Myers and Victoria Jackson play Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme as the ultimate toadies, agreeing with everything Frank says. Jan Hooks is Sinead O’Connor, Chris Rock is Luther Campbell and guest host Sting is perfect as Billy Idol.
Here you go:
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.
SNL just did a funny reworking of a skit from a few weeks back, a game show parody called “What’s That Name?” Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga both played themselves as the contestants. The joke was that Gaga could remember the names of random fans with whom she’s had a conversation, while Timberlake couldn’t even remember the names of a woman he’d slept with two weeks earlier … or one of his N’Sync bandmates.
It was a funny skit, but it reminded me of a similarly-themed and even funnier skit from back in the late 1980s. Paul Simon was the guest host, and the skit had him waiting in line to get into a movie and, like Lady Gaga in tonight’s skit, remembering the names of everyone in the line who happens to speak to him.
There are several examples, each more absurd than the last. It starts with a session musician who played on one of his albums and then finally gets to something along the lines of “Yeah, Bill! Of course I remember you. You sat in the sixth row at a concert I played in Kansas City in 1982.”
Then, he’s approached by another character in the skit – not played by an SNL cast member, but a real person, a tall, curly-headed fellow, playing himself.
“Do I know you?” Simon asks, puzzled at last.
“Paul, it’s me, Artie. Artie Garfunkel.”
“Garfunkel … Garfunkel … Nope, doesn’t ring a bell.”
I roared when I saw this. I’m not sure why it never turns up on any of the various clip shows or documentaries.
I am usually a defender of “Saturday Night Live,” even during some previous seasons when I was in a very small minority. It has to be difficult to produce 90 minutes of fresh comedy in a week’s time, and the current cast always has to compete with our highly-selective memory of years past.
Even so, there’s been a lot to dislike about the past couple of seasons. It’s one thing to have a recurring bit, and it’s another thing to have a skit that’s silly and built on the most thread-bare of premises. Either is excusable, but the past couple of years SNL has taken lame skits, which don’t lend themselves to repetition, and ridden them long past their welcome.
“What’s Up With That?”, featuring Kenan Thompson as a talk show host more concerned about singing his theme song than actually talking to his guests, was funny the first time it ran. But it’s a one-joke premise, and the show has insisted on beating it to death. One week, they actually ran both “What’s Up With That?” and “The Manuel Ortiz Show,” another recurring bit about a talk show interrupted by musical interludes, in the same episode – apparently no one on the writing or production staff realized that both sketches are based on the same joke! That’s just a bankruptcy of ideas.
I think there are a number of talented people in the current cast; the writing is the problem. New cast member Jay Pharoah, judging from his recent appearance on David Letterman, does a much better Obama than Fred Armisen, and should have been given the job by now.
What I’m about to write is hideously presumptious. I’m a small-town newspaper reporter with no knowledge of what it’s like behind the scenes at SNL. So you can take this next portion with a grain of salt – but I keep coming back to it:
Steve Higgins is serving as both the producer of SNL (his name is right after Lorne Michaels’ in the credits) and Jimmy Fallon’s announcer/sidekick. I respect Higgins’ history with the show, and as I say I don’t know anything about its internal workings, but I can’t understand how it’s possible to have a second job while producing something as complex as SNL, and I wonder if that’s part of the problem too. I would think that producing SNL would be – or should be, if done correctly – an all-consuming full-time job.
It may be time for a behind-the-scenes overhaul – not the cast overhaul which the show has sometimes done in the past.
However, “Weekend Update” is still consistently funny. Seth Myers definitely needs to stay at the Update desk.
I’m an idiot.
In my earlier post about how and whether SNL would address the late night talk show controversy, I didn’t give a moment’s thought to tonight’s SNL host, Sigourney Weaver.
I had known in the past, but long since forgotten, that she was the daughter of an NBC executive from the 1950s, Sylvester “Pat” Weaver.
During his tenure at NBC, Weaver is responsible for creating two shows that became NBC’s flagships and are still on the air today.
One of them is the “Today” show.
The other one …. well, let’s just say the other show Pat Weaver created has been in the news this week.
SNL addressed the late night controversy in the cold open, an amusing but relatively-toothless sketch with Jay, Conan and Dave as guests on “Larry King Live.” (Cast member emeritus Darrell Hammond played Jay, Bill Hader played Conan, and Jason Sudeikis was a wordlessly-mugging Dave.) But then, in her monologue, Sigourney made very brief reference to it, noting her father’s role.
I’ll wait and see if Seth makes any reference to it during Weekend Update.
The show is still falling prey to this year’s recycling epidemic; the first sketch, about a women’s darts tournament on ESPN, is recycled from a previous sketch about a women’s bowling tournament.
I’m curious to see how, and if, “Saturday Night Live” addresses the late-night kerfluffle this evening.
On the one hand, it’s a big, public story and everyone would no doubt expect them to address it some how. And Conan, remember, is a former SNL writer; he was picked for his old “Late Night” hosting job by SNL creator Lorne Michaels, and “Late Night” often had SNL cast members as guests.
On the other hand….
NBC executives Jeff Zucker and Dick Ebersol (Ebersol produced SNL during the early 1980s) have made it clear that they aren’t happy about some of the shots the other late night hosts have taken at Jay Leno. Of course, it’s also likely they aren’t happy at the shots taken against Zucker, but they know complaining about that would be counter-productive.
As further proof of their thin-skinnedness on this issue, it’s rumored that one provision of Conan’s exit negotiations is that NBC wants him to commit to not criticize his former employers.
There’s also at least one report Lorne was miffed that he didn’t get to keep his executive producer credit when Conan moved west. That same report notes that Conan’s departure from NBC helps the future prospects of Michaels’ current talk show protege, Jimmy Fallon.
As I say, it should be interesting to see what SNL does tonight, if anything about this season of SNL can be called interesting.
I tend to be an apologist for “Saturday Night Live,” and there have been seasons that everyone else thought were cruddy in which I still found some enjoyment. It’s surely not easy to produce 90 minutes of live topical comedy every week, and it’s very easy to romanticize past seasons (from which we remember the highlights, not the low points) in comparison to the current season.
But the fact of the matter is, this has been a pretty crappy season so far. Tonight, they’ve had, within the space of a half hour, two skits with nearly the exact same premise — an ostensibly-serious talk show interrupted by silly musical numbers. And the first such skit, “What Up With That,” was a recurring skit.
In between the two talk shows was a skit about an over-affectionate family which was funny the first time they did it, a season or two ago, but which is completely redundant as a remake. The “Lawrence Welk Show” parody in the cold open was another one-joke skit that’s been brought back too many times.
“Weekend Update” is just about the only reason to watch SNL at all this year. I think they have some talented performers in the cast this year; it’s the writing that stinks. I think a house-cleaning is in order.