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?

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The Bassomatic…something you cannot explain with words.

The best Star Trek parody…

Elvis Costello – Radio Radio

When I heard the organ in this song it hooked me. I haven’t posted much of Costello partly because like the Replacements…I got sidetracked in the late 80s away from him and since I started blogging I’m rediscovering him again.

I was 10 years old walking in our old drug store and I heard this artist I never heard before over the speakers…the song they were playing was Alison. The drug store sold records also and they had Elvis’s debut album propped up for viewing. The name threw me because this “Elvis” was a small skinny guy with glasses…that is when I found his music.

Radio Radio was made more famous by the Saturday Night Life performance.

Radio Radio was released as a single in 1978 and peaked at #29 in the UK. It was on the US version of the album This Year’s Model and it peaked at #30 in the Billboard Album Charts, #21 in Canada, and #4 in the UK.

Costello was slated to play his current UK single “Less Than Zero,” on Saturday Night Live in 1977. Costello launched into a few bars of “Less Than Zero,” but then turned to his band and told them to stop. He then apologized to the live audience, saying, “I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but there’s no reason to do this song here,” and broke into a full rendition of “Radio Radio,” which had not yet been released.

Lorne Michaels…the God of Saturday Night Live was not pleased.

Costello was banned from Saturday Night Live. It has been said that the corporate brass at NBC (which owned radio properties) objected to the lyrics of “Radio Radio,” but others say it was because Costello went off-script, which was a no no to Lorne Michaels. That was one rule Michaels wanted the cast to know…they were not the Carol Burnett show and they were not to go off script or laugh.

Costello later claimed he was inspired by Jimi Hendrix, who in 1969 stopped a performance of “Hey Joe” on the show Happening for Lulu and launched into the Cream song “Sunshine Of Your Love,” earning him a ban from the BBC.

On Saturday Night Live’s 25th anniversary show in 1999, Costello parodied the incident when he interrupted the Beastie Boys while they were playing “Sabotage,” leading them in a full version of “Radio Radio.”

Elvis Costello: “Before I got into show business, I thought radio was great, So I wrote a song about celebrating it – the thrill of listening to it late at night. This was my imaginary song about radio before I found out how foul and twisted it was.” 

From Songfacts

In this song, Costello is protesting the commercialization of late 1970s FM radio. Radio stations would become more and more consolidated over the years, and their playlists tightened up considerably. Eventually, deregulation led to a few companies owning the majority of American radio stations, which led to automated stations. Tom Petty sang about this on his 2002 track “The Last DJ.”

This song is a takedown of radio, but it started out as a loving tribute. Costello wrote the first version of the song as “Radio Soul” when he was in a band called Flip City. They recorded a demo in 1974, but the song was never released.

In “Radio Soul,” Costello sings lovingly about radio, without any trace of vitriol:

I could sail away to the songs that play upon that radio soul
Radio soul
It’s a sound salvation

When he reworked the song in 1977, he changed the title and completely flipped the meaning, reflecting his newfound take on the topic.

On December 17, 1977, Elvis Costello & the Attractions appeared on Saturday Night Live as last minute replacements for the Sex Pistols, whose various criminal records had made getting visas in time difficult.

Costello’s ban was lifted in 1989 when he returned as musical guest, performing “Veronica” and “Let Him Dangle” without incident. His 1977 act of defiance became part of Saturday Night Live lore, and is often recounted in retrospectives of the show’s history. 

Bruce Springsteen was an influence on this song, musically and lyrically. The Springsteen ethos is more apparent in the “Radio Soul” version, with the theme of escaping to a better place through the power of music.

In the ’10s, Costello started performing the “Radio Soul” version of this song, explaining that it resonates with him far more than “Radio Radio.” He has clearly mellowed out.

Costello performed the early version of this song, “Radio Soul,” at the Apple iTunes Radio announcement event on September 10, 2013. Introducing the song, he explained that radio was very important to him, since his father was singer for a radio dance band.

The 1999 SNL return and parody of the original event.

The 1977 SNL infamous appearance

Radio Radio

I was tuning in the shine on the late night dial
Doing anything my radio advised
With every one of those late night stations
Playing songs bringing tears to my eyes
I was seriously thinking about hiding the receiver
When the switch broke ’cause it’s old
They’re saying things that I can hardly believe
They really think we’re getting out of control

Radio is a sound salvation
Radio is cleaning up the nation
They say you better listen to the voice of reason
But they don’t give you any choice ’cause they think that it’s treason
So you had better do as you are told
You better listen to the radio

I wanna bite the hand that feeds me
I wanna bite that hand so badly
I want to make them wish they’d never seen me

Some of my friends sit around every evening
And they worry about the times ahead
But everybody else is overwhelmed by indifference
And the promise of an early bed
You either shut up or get cut up, they don’t wanna hear about it
It’s only inches on the reel-to-reel
And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools
Tryin’ to anesthetize the way that you feel

Radio is a sound salvation
Radio is cleaning up the nation
They say you better listen to the voice of reason
But they don’t give you any choice ’cause they think that it’s treason
So you had better do as you are told
You better listen to the radio

Wonderful radio
Marvelous radio
Wonderful radio
Radio, radio
Radio, radio
Radio, radio
Radio, radio
Radio, radio
Radio, radio
Radio, radio
Radio, radio

Classic TV Episodes – SNL – Steve Martin/Blues Brothers

This Emmy-nominated episode has acquired a reputation as the best of all Martin’s hosting gigs. Its not my favorite episode…I do like it though… but it’s probably one of the most important in the show’s history.  It was a turning point for SNL. It went from a cult hit to a major player in the ratings during this period. Many people have picked it as the best episode.

Saturday Night Live has always been hit or miss in any era. The difference in the 70s is they would take more chances and Lorne made sure everyone had a chance in the cast.

The show introduced a lot of comedians and some unknown musical artists like Redbone and others that would not have gotten coverage on a network show.

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Saturday Night Live: Steve Martin/Blues Brothers

The Cast: Steve Martin, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Bill Murray, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner, The Blues Brothers, and Don Pardo

The host for the episode is Steve Martin (his fifth appearance), and the musical guest is The Blues Brothers (their second appearance). The skits for this episode are as follows: Concert promoter Don Kirschner presents footage of an old club performance by The Blues Brothers. For his opening monologue, Steve Martin talks about the inspiration for his comedy ideas, then does a magic act that ends with him tackling and beating a member of the audience.

The Festrunk brothers prepare their apartment for the two girls they believe are on the way, but their neighbor Cliff tells them they’ve been stood up. Medieval doctor Theodoric of York treats a series of patients by draining their blood. A man and woman catch each other’s notice in a crowded club, and dance together romantically as the rest of the club freezes in place around them. During the Weekend Update, Jane Curtain and Dan Aykroyd debate abortion, Jane reports on Carter’s energy policy and a new nasal contraceptive, and Dan berates Garrett Morris for short-changing him on the weed he bought. Steve performs a song about King Tut. The Nerds Todd and Lisa prepare their science fair projects. The Blues Brothers perform “I Don’t Know”.

 

The Mr. Bill Show

I was a kid in the seventies and I would stay up and watch Saturday Night Live… Mr. Bill got my attention right away. The hapless Mr. Bill would live in fear of Mr. Hands and Sluggo.

The poor guy and his dog Spot were kicked, punched, buried, burned, stabbed, stepped on, and dropped from the Empire State Building. At school, there was a lot of Ohhhh Nooooo…when someone fell or got hurt.

Walter Williams invented Mr. Bill in 1973 and after SNL had a contest for anyone to submit home movies…Walter and Vance DeGeneres made the first film with an 8mm camera. Lorne liked Mr. Bill and it premiered in the first season…Walter wasn’t paid anything for them for a while but he kept sending them in and Lorne Michaels kept airing them.

Walter eventually was hired as a staff writer in the 4th and 5th season and wrote skits and for the Weekend Update. After the 5th season, he left the show with the original cast but did make a couple of more Mr. Bill’s for SNL that aired in 1981 to bring the total number to 24 Mr Bill Shows.

Mr. Bill’s popularity never completely waned and Walter Williams has made episodes for Fox TV and commercials for different products.

Vance DeGeneres originated “Mr Hands” and helped William film a few of the first films and later sued Williams for part ownership. The judge awarded DeGeneres some money but ruled that the basic idea was Willaims.

From Wiki…SNL Appearances

  1. February 28, 1976 (The Mr. Bill Holiday Special)
  2. October 16, 1976 (Mr. Bill Goes To A Party)
  3. January 22, 1977 (Mr. Bill Goes To A Magic Show)
  4. March 25, 1978 (Mr. Bill Goes To The Circus)
  5. April 8, 1978 (Mr. Bill Pays His Taxes)
  6. October 14, 1978 (Mr. Bill Goes To New York)
  7. October 21, 1978 (Mr. Bill Moves In)
  8. November 18, 1978 (Mr. Bill Goes Fishing)
  9. December 2, 1978 (Mr. Bill Is Late)
  10. January 27, 1979 (Mr. Bill Goes To Court)
  11. February 24, 1979 (Mr. Bill Shapes Up)
  12. March 17, 1979 (Mr. Bill Is Hiding)
  13. May 12, 1979 (Mr. Bill Runs Away)
  14. May 19, 1979 (Mr. Bill Goes To The Movies)
  15. May 26, 1979 (Mr. Bill Visits Saturday Night Live; cold open)
  16. October 13, 1979 (The All-New Mr. Bill Show)
  17. November 3, 1979 (Mr. Bill Stays Home)
  18. November 17, 1979 (Mr. Bill Builds A House)
  19. January 26, 1980 (Mr. Bill Gets Help)
  20. April 5, 1980 (Mr. Bill Strikes Back)
  21. May 10, 1980 (Mr. Bill Gets 20 Years In Sing Sing)
  22. December 20, 1980 (Mr. Bill’s Christmas Special)
  23. April 11, 1981 (cold open with Chevy Chase)
  24. October 17, 1981 (Mr. Bill Goes To L.A.; final appearance)

 

Interview with Walter Williams

http://www.mrbill.com/WWInterview.htm

 

Tom Snyder – The Tomorrow Show

People seem to have really liked Tom Snyder or really disliked him. I’ve watched many of Tom’s interviews and he is quirky and quick to laugh (and laugh) at his own jokes but many of his interviews are remembered. The show lasted from 1973 to 1982. It was canceled to make room for David Letterman.

This was no Tonight Show. You didn’t see skits or monologues, you only saw Tom interviewing his guests and joking with his off-camera assistants. He wasn’t hip nor was he completely square. Someone called him at the time a hip square. It was just him and his guest on a dark set.

I liked Tom because he seemed real and genuine. He could laugh at himself and conducted some really good interviews. After this show ended he did a radio show out of Los Angeles, a few tv guest appearances and he guest hosted the David Letterman Show a few times.

David Letter quote

“Tom was the very thing that all broadcasters long to be — compelling,” “Whether he was interviewing politicians, authors, actors or musicians, Tom was always the real reason to watch. I’m honored to have known him as a colleague and a friend.”

One of the many SNL skits I liked was Dan Aykroyd imitating Tom Snyder…this is Aykroyd as Tom interviewing Mick Jagger.

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The John Lennon interview in 1975. This would be the last TV interview he gave. John is battling his immigration status and has his lawyer Leon Wildes with him to explain what is going on. John comes off open and honest in this interview.

 

The Saturday Night Live cast before the first show. This is a partial look at the interview.

 

This is one a good one. Tom has KISS as guests and I just love how a drunk Ace Frehley (The Trout Player) takes over the interview and infuriates Gene Simmons. You can see Gene’s eyes shooting daggers at Ace and Peter.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Snyder

 

Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live

If you want to know why and how Saturday Night Live came to be…this is the book. It covers the first 10 years of the show but is primarily about the first 5 years and the one terrible year after the classic cast left. It was written by Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad and they interviewed practically everyone connected with the show and it is surprising on how objective they are throughout the book.

Working on the show was/is not for the thin-skinned. It was rough and no one was spared…not even the stars at first. The book goes into detail about how the show started a pattern of work that continued through the decades. The troubles the female writers went through trying to do their job. The endless drugs that fueled many of the all-night writing sessions.

The atmosphere could be very sexist, insulting and aggressive. Michael O’Donoghue was the key writer and gave SNL the edge but he could be difficult. When he left the show he was missed. When the original cast, writers, and Lorne Michaels left, Jean Doumanian took over the show for a year. Things didn’t go well, to say the least. The book details the transition then to Dick Ebersol.

The show went from an ensemble show trying new ideas to a star-driven formulaic show under Ebersol. Maybe the show was destined to do that anyway and it would never be the same again.

I’ve read a few books on SNL but as far as the creation and original cast…this is the one to go to.

 

 

 

Saturday Night Live

It started out as Saturday Night… Saturday Night Live title belonged to ABC for a show hosted by Howard Cosell who was out of his league. ABC let Saturday Night have the Live part after Cosell’s show was over.

Who was the best cast through the years? This is a question that is debated over and over again. The people arguing usually picks the cast they grew up with. I grew up with Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo. Personally, I always thought the original cast was the best and it wasn’t even close. 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.

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 didn’t but they were different from anything on TV at that time…and also at this time. That cast pushed the envelop to use a worn-out phrase but in this instance it is true. Lorne Michaels guided the show and even the musical guests were usually hip bands and artists unknown to the general public and some are legendary now. No way would Michaels ever dream of that now…he usually gets whoever is the most popular to draw in the ratings. He could not do what he did in the 70s anymore because of ratings…and it is sad. Michaels also used the complete ensemble. It was not the Eddie Murphy and the Joe Piscopo show of the early eighties. It was about getting an unknown cast and building them and all of them having a shot…not a star-driven show that gave all the best bits to the stars.

A lot of the skits are now famous… Ackroyd’s Bassomatic, the Samurai, the uncomfortable but funny Word Association with Richard Pryor, 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 Carol Burnett 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 dark 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 two members that didn’t get as much publicity as the others were Newman and Morris and are not as well remembered today. Newman and Ackroyd were the best character actors on the show…they could play anyone.  That cast tried to test all the limits. SNL has turned into just another comedy show through the years. The original group also did some serious skits along with comedy and trips into the bizarre (See Mr. Mike). …It separated the original from any other cast.

There were other great casts but none resonated like the original to me. It was also the timing of when they debuted…and look at the talent in that cast…

The host each week was usually under the radar actors, writers, musicians and sometimes athletes. You usually didn’t see A-list actors but if you did they were carefully chosen. The one big mistake was Milton Berle…how he got to host I don’t know but that is the only show of the first five years I will try to avoid… He was that bad.

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

Cheers to the show that introduced Acapulco Gold to a television audience.

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The Bassomatic…something you cannot explain with words.

The best Star Trek parody…

A few things from the 70s

If I could have been a teenager in any decade it would have been the 1970s. I barely remember the 70s  I grew up mostly in the 80s. I was always envious of people who grew up in the decade before I did…. Great music, split level houses, earth tones, funky clothes, cool cars, great tv shows and bad variety shows…so bad they were great…. Everyone and everything had their own personality. It was a decade where all generations intersected with each other. You had a Halloween Special with Tim Conway, Kiss, Florence Henderson (singing That Old Black Magic no less), Margaret Hamilton, the eternal Betty White and Donny and Marie! What other decades would have that and Saturday Night Live….with Laraine Newman, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, Garrett Morris, and Chevy Chase…

I’m not saying anything bad didn’t happen…they did… Jonestown, Kent State, Watergate, Iran hostages, inflation and gas shortages and more. But every decade has its tragedies and bad things.

Really good things were no cell phones, no AIDs, we had vinyl records and we would study the front cover art or picture and the fold out for hours, real honest to goodness rock stars who had talent, no auto-tune, pictures that were not doctored so much you weren’t sure they were real, Intellivision, Atari games, libraries were still relevant, hanging out with friends after school, not nearly as much commercialism (fewer choices to make), more freedom, individualism, you could tell a Ford from a Chevy, Now everyone wants the same things because we are hit with ads 24/7 to be like everyone else.

The 1980s is when commercialism really started in full earnest.

In the 70s people and companies were not afraid to take chances to do something different and new…like movies, houses and cars….even if you didn’t like them (AMC Pacer!) at least you weren’t seeing the same thing in different colors. Yes disco was there but I still like it better than boy groups now. Real musicians played on them. I will admit the lit dance floors were pretty cool…that’s all I will give disco. You could go and see The Who, Led Zeppelin, Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder for 12 bucks and under…sometimes cheaper.

Many people would disagree with the 70s but I still like the chaise lounge chairs with the groovy fuzzy feeling (I have one), green shag carpet the dark restaurants and Star Wars! Before the awful….for the most part Star War prequels.

I can think of many more things both good and bad. I just wish I could have seen more of the seventies at an older age than I was then. But I enjoyed what I had of them…I just wished we had more individualism now.

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Can’t forget the Pacer (rolling fish aquarium on wheels)

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The best Peanut Butter ever…KOOGLE… it came in 4 flavors and Banana was my favorite. I so wish Kraft would bring this back…I really miss this…