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SNL: Saturday Not Living (Up to Anything Resembling its Former Greatness)

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Fey and Poehler in SNL Premiere

Fey and Poehler in SNL Premiere

At this risk of this blog being 90% TV coverage (CW, why do you hurt so good?), I write to you with an urgent message. Saturday Night Live, once the pinnacle of humorous television broadcasting for a very long time, has reached a new low point (former low point: this, NOT for younger viewers). I consider the show to be in a state of grave atrophy. Last night for the premiere of the 33rd season of everyone’s once favorite place to see the next great comedic talents, they pulled out all the stops. With rumors of an Obama appearance (unfortunately natural disasters take precendence these days), the most legendary Olympic athlete of all time (sorry Kerri) hosting, and one of the top artists on the charts and in people’s minds these days, the potential for a comeback was at a fever pitch. Then the cameras started rolling.

The mild thrill entertained by Tina Fey’s return to play Sarah Palin (a hot ticket in the blogosphere, including this one, these days) (Editor’s Note: Last night’s cold open was perfectly written and delivered; proof that SNL’s political satire continues to fire on all cylinders. Now apply that heat to the rest of the show!) did little to change the outcome of a disastrous example of my now tried and true, what’s-older-is-better theory. I don’t claim to have written a dissertation on comedic television programming but I’d like to think I have a grasp on what’s funny. Like this and this. I seem to recall a golden era for Saturday Night Live. Scratch that. I seem to recall multiple golden eras for the long running “live” Saturday night stalwart. Note: if only NBC wasn’t anal about copyright infringement, the links could be so much richer!

  1. Golden Era #1: Chevy Chase delivering the weekend update, Billy Murray singing “Star Wars,” Eddie Murphy as Gumby (to name a few)
  2. Golden Era #2: Chris Farley as Matt the Motivational Speaker, Toonces the Driving Cat, Adam Sandler on the Denise Show (again, a few in a vast sea)
  3. Golden Era #3: the cowbell skit, Will Ferrell as the devil, Chris Kattan as Mango, Brian Fellow’s Safari Planet (the list goes on and on and on)

When did something Seth Meyers wrote inspire t-shirt sales or an iPhone app? Some of you may or may not agree with some of my picks above, and I cannot overstate those were just the first that came to mind, but no one will argue that those skits are MASSIVELY more funny than some of the fare in recent seasons. People I know still quote skits that were broadcast at the END of these golden era episodes, traditionally the part of the show where the weaker writing goes.

Maybe I’m beating a dead horse. I’ve heard this argument collectively for years now and I’ve pondered over it since Will Ferrell left the show in 2002, but last night was embarrassing for everyone involved, including the viewers. What I can’t fathom is how a show with one of the most prestigious long standing reputations in television today can consistently settle for something less than greatness. How is there no meeting in which a Jack Donaghy-ish comes into the writers room and says, “You need to do a lot better. Now.” What pains me is that while things have been on a downward slide for a long time now, it doesn’t seem as if there isn’t talent on the show. Likewise I can’t imagine it’s any easier becoming a staff writer for SNL than it was in the golden eras. Which leaves me scratching my head. When, if ever, will SNL return to greatness? I feel sure that putting it in a Thursday night time slot (wait WHAT?) and booking Michael Phelps (whose charm and grandeur belong in the pool, not comedic television) aren’t the way to bail out a sinking ship.

Scenario: You’ve got a meeting with Lorne Michaels at 10 AM tomorrow morning. He wants to know what changes must be made to restore SNL to is former glory. What will you tell him? And what kind of tie will you wear to the meeting?

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10 Responses to “SNL: Saturday Not Living (Up to Anything Resembling its Former Greatness)”

  1. Henning Says:

    The answer to all of SNL’s problems is clearly the re-hiring of Horatio Sanz; even if it’s a cast member doing so, someone will be laughing. Oh, and Wall-E should host. Have the Jonas Brothers already performed on the show?

  2. JES Says:

    I missed Saturday night’s show. (Well, I actually haven’t seen much SNL for a few years now. And this Saturday night in particular I was partaking of that psychotically odd Doomsday movie, which we’d rented based on our admiration of the director’s Descent. The two didn’t have a lot in common, though, but — wait, hold on, this is about SNL for cripe’s sake…!)

    But it’s gratifying to hear they did a decent job with the Palin bit. I was worried they’d just lazily fall back on the audience’s appreciation of the lovely Ms. Fey, w/out giving her a real script. (Too bad she hasn’t earned a dime every time someone has said the names Fey and Palin in the same sentence over the last few weeks. She could retire.)

    SNL has always been of uneven quality. The blackout sketches often run, like, 2-3 beats too long, for instance, and the live format means there’s a lot they can’t control. But the most reliable indicator in advance of a show’s likely quality seems to be the guest host: if it’s a real actor and not a “personality,” the odds go way up. Sometimes the non-pros pull off surprisingly good appearances, but it’s amazing how easily they can wreck even pretty good material.

  3. Gunky Slug Says:

    JES – a fine example of a non-actor performance might clearly be Justin Timberlake and “Dick in a Box”. Now that was funny! Don’t know what I would say to Lorne Michaels, but it would definitely be a “Bolo” tie. I think it could leave him speechless, in an Andy Kaufmann kind of way. Hey, not to go really old school maybe a sketch utilizing a guy with any iPhone attempting to play old outtakes of Andy Kaufmann to the amusement of the watching audience without saying anything…..okay, maybe I should have left that one out.

  4. Alex Q Says:

    Why does SNL seem to put everyone to sleep instead of making them laugh?
    The network has made the show a cheap version of its original self, all of the outstanding cast members have slowly left/are leaving (realizing in today’s day and age, better things exist beyond SNL) without the emergence of any hot new starts (Andy Samberg has yet to show he can do more than a few hilarious digital shorts; give Kristen Wiig more screen time!), and hosts are booked based on their current fame with no regard towards their contribution to actual entertain.

    I can’t wait until they ask that cute lil chipmunk, not to mention gold medal gymnast, Shawn Johnson to host. Have you seen her Ortega commerical? Or that incredible cameo on ABC Family’s The Secret Life of an American Teenager? Well hot damn that girl can ACT!!!

    Hire some brand spankin new talent, do a better job of selecting celebrity hosts (I honestly think Lindsay Lohan’s SNL appearances are usually hilarious, and with her newfound lesbian preference, how could hilarity possibly not ensue?), and go after some writers who are actually funny (possibly someone from the globe-encompassing Judd Apatow clan)…
    Or just stop using the defibrillator, and and cancel the show already.

  5. Will Edmondson Says:

    http://www.reuters.com/article/entertainmentNews/idUSTRE48S0IJ20080929

  6. Henning Says:

    Will – I wonder if a similar approach might net Lifting Fog an increased readership. We’re thinking all Palin, all the time… and cute animal pictures. Ya dig?

    Alex – Goddamn, you like to write. All of your suggestions to bring SNL back to its old comedic heights sound rock solid and thus will not be heeded by anyone at NBC. Like you point out, opportunities for those who in the past would have unquestioningly auditioned for SNL have expanded. The Daily Show, Colbert Report – hell, Chocolate News – all poach now from the same general talent coffer. I think it’s good for television, but bad for SNL. The cast is still talented… but maybe unseasoned? The only youngish member who consistently rocks is Bill Hader. Wiig is funny, but IMO only in small doses. She doesn’t do subtle.

    I hope there’s always room on the NBC slate for SNL because it CAN be relevant and CAN be funny. A show that’s been on air for 30 years will have ups and downs (look at the Simpsons) but as long as there’s fresh talent, there’s always hope. One more thing: KEEP APATOW’S HANDS OFF SNL. Sorry.

  7. Fret Not Republicans: Palin Has Acting Career After Campaign « Lifting Fog Says:

    […] is just around the corner!) that the world met Sarah Louise Heath Palin (I call her SLHP in txts). As previously blogged, the current state of Saturday Night Live appears to be in disarray. Not unlike the current state […]

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    Kristina hijacked the MacBook Pro so I’m stuck surfing the web on my phone.

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