How To Improve “SNL” At The Drop Of A Letter
Dear Lorne Michaels,
First I want to congratulate you on the premiere of your Thirty-Sixth season of the program last week, certainly one of the longest running entertainment shows (or more accurately, shows that label themselves as “entertainment”) in television history!
However, as I’m sure you must know, there have been problems throughout this series and, as this first episode of the new season suggests, these problems have not gone away. Let’s take this piece by piece and try to root out the source of the issue.
SNL has launched a lot of “catchphrases” into the US vernacular. From “We are two wild and crazy guys!” to “we just wanna pump (*CLAP*) you up!” to “What up wit that?” among a seemingly endless list. Frankly, the phrases that the series has made famous over the years were often fun to say, but, they were also pretty meaningless in the grand scheme. And that holds true for the one catchphrase that has been said at the start of every episode since the program began:
“Live, From New York, It’s Saturday Night!”
Mr. Michaels, let’s be honest. At this point in the show’s history, this is perhaps the most meaningless of all of the catchphrases utilized by any of the cast members or hosts. Yes, it’s technically accurate, in that the program is being broadcast live (at least in the Eastern and Central time zones), from midtown Manhattan, and, at the moment that the phrase is uttered, it is before Midnight, so it is Saturday night, by everybody’s standards. But the point is the real meaning of what that phrase represented is now completely lost.
The show has been entirely on cue cards and rehearsed as much as possible for decades, so the “live” quality of it really doesn’t have a lot of value for a viewer. We may be watching it as it happens, but that only means that it might not go exactly as planned. It’s like tuning in to NASCAR to watch for the 11 car pileup. Yes, you get the occasional cast member dropping an “F” bomb during the broadcast, or the incorrect tune played for your lip synching musical guest, but we’re not here to see failure; we want to enjoy!
The program is coming from 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the iconic GE Building. But that fact rarely matters. It could be Peoria for all the use you are making of the NYC setting. True, the “Digital Shorts” do take things outside the Studio 8H setting, but even these feel a bit forced at this point.
And the fact that it’s Saturday Night merely suggests that maybe we should all be doing something other than watching television as the program goes on air!
Compare that experience with the first season: the “Not Ready For Primetime Players” were not just a bunch of comedians out to make names for themselves. They were people with a particular mission in mind: they wanted to push the limits. It was about racing towards the precipice of a cliff and seeing how close they could get before stopping. It was the very definition of cutting edge comedy! Really it seemed like that original cast (and YOU, Mr. Michaels!) were intent on seeing just how much you could get away with before getting tossed off the air! Now THAT was dangerous! That was worth watching!
Today, the “live” quality of the program can only justify the fact that the sketches performed are falling flat and this is the excuse for such a poor track record when it comes to the laughs. So, the most obvious way to fix this program is to film it and show the edited version as the program everyone sees at 11:30pm.
Before you start freaking out about the thought that your program might not be telecast live, let’s remember that it’s only live to two of the six United States time zones, so you’re not really losing a lot if you tape. For all its “topical” qualities and potential for “up to the minute” references, the material could easily be taped earlier in the day, or throughout the week. And really, we need some quality control! Stuff that wouldn’t be funny as a homemade sketch on a youtube video is being broadcast here. This needs to stop. That’s why you need to tape and edit.
Here’s a quick comparison to three other shows that were in the same vain as this one: “SCTV” (a.k.a. “Second City Television”), “In Living Color” and “MadTV.” These three programs were all filmed, all had similar style sketches with running characters and and were all funnier than what we’ve been getting on your show for approximately three seasons out of every four.
I suppose your comeback argument is that those shows are all gone now, and “SNL” continues to roll on, season after season. My response would be “SNL” didn’t have any competition. Yes, “MadTV” aired for a half hour opposite “SNL,” but it was the opening half hour of the show, typically the strongest part of the broadcast, then your program had no other real challengers for the remaining sixty minutes.
Mr. Michaels, even you must admit, you are pitching a “comedy free” comedy show. Take your premiere for example. The most comical thing in the entire episode was the walk on appearance of New York’s lame duck Governor, David Patterson, paired with his impersonator Fred Armisen. If the funniest person of the evening was a politician and not a pro comic, that’s a red flag. And if, after having a whole summer off, the first week back was this unamusing? It doesn’t bode well for the rest of the season.
This isn’t new! This situation has been going on for years. So I have to ask, who finds these sketches funny? Do the writers actually think this material works? Do you laugh when you see this show? If so, why? If not, why aren’t you firing people?!
Oh, but wait. With no competition, there’s no need to do anything. Just sit back, kick it to auto-pilot, and just ride that wave of ineptitude because it doesn’t matter that “SNL” isn’t funny. It’ll be “funny enough,” because if you’re watching broadcast TV, it’s this or infomercials, so if you don’t like it, just drink more or smoke more; that will make the show as funny to the audience as it does to the writers!
In the immortal words of Emily Littella, “Never mind!”