Sunday, August 05, 2007

A brief history of Saturday Night Live

I was originally just going to leave the quick hit comment below; but honestly, let's take a look at the history of SNL for a minute here.

First, to stave off the comments, the seasons 75-78/79 were unquestionably the best. No-one could ever beat Chase, Murray (who replaced Chase), Akroyd, Belushi, Radner, and Curtin (Newman and Morris.. eh, kinda tokens honestly). The writing, headed by Michael O'Donoghue was the best the show would ever see... minus a few of the obviously more pharmaceutically inspired pieces of course.

From 79/80-85/86... those years are best left unremembered; the only bright spot being Eddy Murphy.

Let me also say a special Fuck You to Jean Doumanian (and Fred Silverman for being the cause of those years general suckitude.

Doumanian was a "talent scout" who somehow got stuck in as producer after basically everyone quit when Fred Silverman wouldn't let Lorne Michaels recast the show and find some good writers. She wouldn't let Harry Shearer be the head writer (he left and co-wrote Spinal Tap the next year), and refused to hire Eddie Murphy (she later changed her mind) , Dana Carvey, Jim Carrey and Paul Reubens (pee Wee Herman); giving us instead Joe Piscopo, Charles Rocket, and Gilbert Godfried.

Fred Silverman was the VP of programming for NBC, who fired almost everybody who hadn't quit already, and who gave the show to Doumanian. He HATED SNL because they were constantly making fun of him for picking bad shows, and making bad decisions, generally running NBC into the ground (which was true by the way).

At the end of the 80/81 season they fired Doumanian and brought on Dick Ebersol, who'd actually created SNL in '74; and who was responsible for hiring Lorne Michaels in the first place

...Well, he tried. He fired all the cast and writers from 80/81 except Murphy and Piscopo; and he tried to hire John Candy and Catherine O'Hara (who would have been amazing). Basically from 81/82 to 83/84, it became the Eddie Murphy and Joe Picopo show... and anything starring Murphy was pretty god, but the rest of the show... frankly sucked; and Murphy left at the end of the 83/84 season.

The 83/84 season marks the time when I actually started watching SNL live on an occasional basis by the way; but I've seen most of what came before as re-runs on cable, and on video.

For 84/85, Ebersol fired half the cast and all the writers, and brought on Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer as both writers and performers (they wer efresh off the cult success of Spinal Tap). THey also brought in two name comedians, Billy Crystal and Martin Short; who were brought on to replace Murphy and Piscopo. Again,SNL became a two man show. Crystal and Short were brilliant, everything else sucked, except the occasional weird stuff they let Shearer and Guest do.

For 85/86, half the cast and crew quit again, and NBC fired the rest. They were going to just cancel the show, but decided to try and get Lorne Michaels to come back again and build the show he wanted. They gave him an almost free hand (in theory), and he used it.

The first thing he did was bring back AL Franken, Tom Davis and Jim Downey (all part of the original writing team from the 75-80 period) as writers and executive producers. Then he hired Randy Quaid, Joan Cusack, Nora Dunn, Dennis Miller, Anthony Michael Hall, Robert Downey Jr., Damon Wayans and Jon Lovitz.

Yeah, you know all of those names for a reason.

But remember I said above 79/80 to 85/86 were the bad years? Well, 85/86 SUCKED. Quaid was drunk the entire time, Hall and Downey did cereal bowls full of coke (at 17 and 19 years old by the way), and nobody had a clue what Wayans was doing, including Wayans.

The only ones they brought back for 86/87 were Lovtiz, Miller, and Dunn; and that's where things get interesting again.

In one fell swoop, Michaels hired Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks, Victoria Jackson, and Kevin Nealon.

Yeah, you probably know all those names as well; at least you should... OK, except maybe Jan Hooks who never really stood out.. and Victoria Jackson always irritated me.

Anyway, clearly, this was the best cast they'd had since 78/79; and would kick off a great run that lasted until about '93/94, and a bit of '95. Nealon and Hartman started off this great period, and they closed it down.

I bet the only sketches you can remember from '79 til '86 involve Eddy Murphy, or Billy crystal right?

I dunno about y'all, but I remember a hell of a lot of the sketches from '86 to '95.

And then in '88, they hired Mike Meyers; with six years of unmitigated funny to follow.

It was '88/89 that made SNL a "do not miss this show" event again. Everybody was watching SNL then, and people were still talking about sketches the next week at work and school.

Unfortunately, for 90/91, things started down hill, and haven't ever recovered.

Lovitz and Dunn had left/been fired (a bit of both) at the end of 89/90; and there were some grumblings from the '86 revival players. Then Miller left at the end of '91 for his own show (which bombed unfortunately, but he's done OK since then).

There were some real standouts from 91/92 to 94/95... but generally speaking the best of 86-91 weren't matched (excepting continuing great performances from Hartman, Carvey, and Meyers of course), with three very notable exceptions, Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, and Chris Rock (all hired in '90 or '91).

Unfortunately in '92/93, Carvey and Chris Rock both left, then Meyers, Hartman, Farley, Sandler all left in 94 or 95... and that's pretty much all she wrote.

Since '95 there have really only been two cast members worth watching, Will Ferrel and Darrel Hammond... and maybe a little credit to Jimmy Fallon (not much - he can be very funny, but on SNL, he wasn't), Amy Poehler (again, she CAN be very funny but wasn't on SNL), and Cheri Oteri.

Tina Fey is a great, and very funny WRITER (which is what she was hired for in '97. She was head writer from '99 to 2006... not exactly a great legacy ); but she sucked as a performer on SNL. She's apparently doing a lot better with 30 Rock(along with Rachel Dratch, who I always found irritating); but I've never seen the show.

Norm McDonald can be great, but he sucked on SNL; plus he was drunk basically the entire time. Comedians who are coked up all the time can be really hilarious... RIchard Pryor, Robin Williams, hell, the entire first 5 years of SNL... comedians who are drunk enough that their timing is screwed up and they forget their jokes, but not so drunk that they fall down a lot... not funny.

Oh and a side note on that last comment: Dean Martin almost never drank on stage. It was an act. You couldn't possibly drink as much as he seemed to and still make it through those performances. He said so many times in interviews before he died.

Now as to those "standouts"... well, they aren't exactly Bill Murray and Chevy Chase...

Will Ferrel... man, sometimes he's hilarious; much of the time he's just irritating. He's honestly a very good actor in his own right, outside of his comedic capability; but he doesn't seem to be able to figure out what's gonna work (Old School), and what isn't (A Night at the Roxbury).

Darrel Hammond is a gifted impressionist (better than Rich Little in his best years), but otherwise, he's not very funny. Oh and he currently holds the dubious distinction of being the longest running SNL cast member (12 years), and having had the most appearances on the show.

Now think about it... of all the cast members, what era are the memorable ones, what era are the duds?

Other than Ferrel is anyone from the last 12 years going to be remembered? Probably not. In fact they're probably going to cancel the show next season. They cut the budget nearly in half for 2007 and are cutting it again next year.

You remember the great from 86 to 94 though: Carvey, Hartman, Meyers, Miller, Sandler, Rock, Farley. All of them tremendously successful, and destined to be remembered.

'80 through '85... Do you remember anyone but Murphy, Crystal, and Short? Hell, Crystal and Short don't really count because they were already stars when they showed up on SNL.

... Okay, we all remember Joe Piscopo; but not in a good way.

The original cast though... other than Lorraine Newman and Garret Morris (who were quite honestly the token hot chick and the token black man) they all went on to be MAJOR stars; in fact most of them still are.

Honestly, at this point I don't think the show can or should be saved. The magic is gone, and after 12 years of nothing but crap, they aren't going to get it back.