TV Draft Round 9 – Pick 2 – Max Selects – Saturday Night Live

I wanted to do a more modern show other than Life On Mars…and this would qualify as it…kinda. It has been on the air since 1975… a whopping 47 years. It’s been on life support at times but has always pulled through. It’s an institution at this point. There is not enough room on a post to go over every cast. Everyone has their favorites some were extremely funny and some were extremely bad (1980 – 1981 cast) and they all make up the history of this show. 

I’m going to concentrate on the original cast and how the show became SNL. Most of you have favorite different casts…usually, the one you grew up with. 

Even if you don’t like this show or what it’s become…it was a cultural landmark and no one can deny that. It changed television forever. The show started because Johnny Carson wanted more time off. NBC had been airing reruns of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show on the weekends to fill space in their lineup. This allowed them to double-dip on profits from Carson’s outrageously popular show without spending another dime on production costs. He told NBC he would only be making four shows a week, which meant that best-of Carson shows that had been airing on Saturday nights would now need to be moved to a weeknight.

 NBC executive Herbert Schlosser sought to create a new show with an old format…a variety show to fill the slot on Saturday Night. He picked Lorne Michaels, a Canadian writer who only had a handful of credits to be the producer. Michaels started a show that was far different than Schlosser imagined but to his credit… Schlosser was behind it and pushed for it to be on the air. The first two shows were experiments but by the third show, they found the format they would keep to this day. The funny thing is…Johnny Carson never liked the show. 

Lorne Michaels made the show to appeal to baby boomers with a touch of Avant-Garde and “guerrilla-style comedy.” It was a game-changer much like All In The Family was to sitcoms. Late-night was never again a wasteland. This show helped open the doors for David Letterman and other shows to follow it. 

It started out as “Saturday Night.” The Saturday Night Live title belonged to ABC for a show hosted by Howard Cosell who was out of his league. After Cosell’s show was cancelled, ABC let Saturday Night have the “Live” part.

Who was the best cast through the years? This is a question that is debated over and over again. People argue and usually pick the cast they grew up with. I grew up in the Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo era. Personally, I always thought the original cast was the best era of the show. Yes, I thought the Murphy and Piscopo casts were very funny along with later casts that had Dana Carvey, Michael Myers, Chris Farley, Chris Rock, and many others that followed. The first five seasons had something extra that others would not and could not have. It had an underground feel that vanished after it became a pure comedy show. They had a massive amount of talent in that first class. 

John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd, Chevy Chase (though I liked his replacement better…Bill Murray), Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, and my favorite overlooked cast member Laraine Newman. They were the perfect cast for that time. 

Why do I like the original cast the most? They tried new things and went out on a limb. Some of the skits succeeded some fell flat but they were different from anything on TV at that time…and also at this time. That cast pushed the envelope and made the network executives worry. The host each week was usually under the radar actors, writers, comedians musicians, and sometimes athletes. The musical guests were mostly rarely seen performers that weren’t on tv…prime time or otherwise. Frank Zappa, Leon Redbone, The Kinks, Patti Smith, Ry Cooder, Kinky Friedman, and others. You would have more popular musicians like Paul Simon but the show gave you a great variety. 

No way would Michaels ever dream of that now…he usually gets whoever is the most popular to draw in ratings. He can no longer do what he did in the 70s because of that. He also used the complete ensemble. It was not Eddie Murphy, Joe Piscopo, and everyone else of the early eighties. It was about building an unknown cast and all of them having a shot…not a star-driven show that gave all the best bits to the big names. He made sure the entire cast had a lead in skits and parody commercials. Dick Ebersol who followed Lorne Micheals, was famous for getting stars in the cast and the show revolving around them.

A lot of the skits are now famous… Ackroyd’s Bassomatic, the Samurai, the uncomfortable but funny Word Association with Richard Pryor, The Killer Bees, The Mr. Bill Show, Weekend Update, Roseanne Rosannadanna, Land Shark, Bag of Glass, The Wild and Crazy Guys, the Coneheads, The Lounge Singer, Mr. Mike, The Blues Brothers and many more.

The writers for the show were not in the variety show comedy vein..they were not in the current SNL vein either. The style was more aggressive, especially with Michael O’Donoghue. He was a comedy trailblazer with National Lampoon and added black humor to SNL. Other writers were Franken and Davis, Rosie Shuster, Alan Zweibel, Marilyn Miller, Anne Beatts, Herb Sargent, Tom Schiller, and also Ackroyd and Chase.

The original group also did some serious skits along with comedy and trips into the bizarre (See the ultra-dark “Mr. Mike”). …It separated the original from any other cast.

I like the feel of the underground the first five years had but you can only be that for so long…popularity takes over. Those first 5 years (the first four were great…the fifth very good) set the foundation that holds to this day…just without the daring and danger.

Ann Beatts was one of the original writers who saw the popularity of the show rise beyond anything she ever imagined. She knew the risk-taking traits in the show would have to end because of it. “You can only be avant-garde for so long until you become garde.”

By the 5th season (1979-1980), it was a circus grown out of proportion. The cast by that time were usually bigger stars than the guest hosts.  Everyone left after that season along with Lorne Michaels. The show went on without him until 1985 when he rejoined. It was never the same again. Sometimes it was funny and sometimes not but it was never the same experimental show it was at the start. 

What other show would introduce “Acapulco Gold” and “Orange Sunshine” to a national television audience?

SNL2.jpg

The Bassomatic…something you cannot explain with words.

The best Star Trek parody…

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

33 thoughts on “TV Draft Round 9 – Pick 2 – Max Selects – Saturday Night Live”

    1. That was the best Star Trek parody to me… for some reason WordPress published a draft I did last night…before I updated it…I’ve now replaced it with the real one…I’m not sure what happened.

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  1. I just watched the star trek one. Brings happy memories and lots of laughs back. Still funny. I miss those seasons w the original cast (including Bill as replacement.) Excellent choice and write-up, Max.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. a great writeup about a great show. Like you said, it is a cultural institution now and its importance on the rest of show biz can’t be under-estimated, both for changing the ‘shape’ of comedy TV and introducing so many great new talents who’d become big stars (Murray and MArtin being two of my favorites). That alone was revolutionary… they found the underground talent rather than look to big name existing stars. And in so doing, one can see how it could follow a four, five year cycle while as that one put it ‘avante garde’ became ‘garde’ and they had to rebuild. I liked the early 90s best, but there’s no denying the great talent of their early years too.

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    1. With me…it wasn’t about being funny as much as the atmosphere of those first 5 years…and the odd hosts and musical guests…they were not bands or artists in the top 10 much… Micheals turned down Carroll O’Connor to host the show because he was too popular.

      Really…it was a different show afterward…a more streamlined comedy/music show.

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    1. That cast was just amazing. Belushi was on a different level than everyone else… I heard him best described as not a person but a force of nature.

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  3. I loved the Jimmy Carter skit. 😀 You did a great job of describing the eras of SNL. This show certainly belongs in the draft. Think of all of the pop culture sayings that came from SNL. I couldn’t possibly name them all. There was ‘Oh Noooo!’ from Mr. Bill, ‘Van down by the river’, and We are wild and crazy guys, My all-time favorite sketches are probably Gilda Radner and Bill Murray and the refrigerator repairman, the Clarence Thomas hearings, Adam Sandler singing the Hanukkah song, Mary Katherine Gallagher and Steven Tyler, anything from Wayne’s World or the Church Lady, and Stuart Smalley’s Daily Affirmations with Michael Jordan. As soon as I stop listing them, I think of more faves. So yeah, great pick!

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    1. Thank you! I forgot about the refrigerator repairman and the Nerds! I liked a lot of the casts through the 90s.
      I was watching the 3rd season the other night and it was so raw…it’s hard to explain the atmosphere of those first 5 years. Totally different but that doesn’t make the others not funny…some were just as funny but the show was different.

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      1. Thank you! They helped popularize “nerd”… I love this sketch and Gilda is wonderful.

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      2. Wow, I had no idea they were valued like that today! I remember seeing a few still in operation, in kitchens of people my grandparents’ age, and used ones in young peoples’ starter homes. Then I saw them in garages for awhile, I suppose.

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      3. They must last forever. I have seen this style in garages also… I didn’t know about that brand.

        My Best Buy on an appliance was a 1969 chrome Oster blender. We went through 2 modern ones until I picked it up for 10 bucks at a yard sale. I joke that it would blend iron but it is tough.

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  4. Starting high school back in 81 SNL was a must watch almost every Saturday Night…. What a great time to have been a viewer. Not the same anymore…Thanks for posting those old skits with Belushi esp that Star Trek one….

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    1. That is when I started to watch it by myself… before that I watched it some with my sister with the original cast… it was great

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  5. I watched SNL routinely from about 1982 to 1992 (along with reruns of the original 1970s cast). The show has gone through many ebbs and flows over the years, and honestly will always be as good or as bad as its current performers and writers are (and what the network will allow them to get away with). Probably the reason it’s almost 50 years old now is that it is built to evolve. Anyhow, I’d say the mid-to-late 80s cast could give the original cast a run for its money, but then again I know people who say the same thing about the late 90s cast.

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    1. As far as funny…there were some great casts…I totally agree with that…some maybe funnier than the original. It was that underground rawness that the original had that could not be had again…combined with the off the wall musical guests that Micheals couldn’t do again because of network pressure….he had almost free reign in the 70s.

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      1. You have a good point about the musical guests. Over time the musical guest just became a convention, and a lot of time their performance just felt like an interruption to the funny sketches. But if you have ever watched the second episode of the first season, almost the entire show is musical performances, including a Simon & Garfunkel reunion. It’s a model for a type of SNL episode that was never followed up on.

        Of course, things might have also been different if John Lennon and Paul McCartney actually made it down to the tv studio to collect their $3000, as they considered doing.

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      2. Wouldn’t it have been historical if they would have shown up? Georges appearance was good but Lennon and McCartney would have been the ultimate.

        Liked by 1 person

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