March 4, 2015
Mr. Lorne Michaels
Saturday Night Live
30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, NY 10112
Dear Mr. Michaels,
There we were, settled in on the sofa for the comedy event of the year – the Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special. Your three-and-a-half hour reunion extravaganza had been hyped for months and promised a star-studded cast, top-notch musical guests and even brand-new skits. My husband and I were looking forward to an evening of fond memories and total hilarity.
But within the first half-hour, we realized that something was wrong. There was a flicker of apprehension when Chevy Chase tottered onto the stage. A worried glance was exchanged when Dan Aykroyd reinacted his 1976 Bassomatic pitch, with no discernible comedic result. Our worst fears were confirmed about six minutes into a seemingly endless episode of The Californians, which even plucky Betty White couldn’t save.
“Oh my gosh, it’s not that funny,” I said in dismay. What in the name of sketch comedy was going on? This was supposed to be a celebration of four decades of outrageous humor – a total laugh riot – but instead it just felt overwhelmingly awkward. What a letdown. As Billy Crystal might say, “I hate when that happens.”
At some point in the planning process, you must have decided that a clip show just wouldn’t do for your 40th anniversary. Instead, you conceived a program that was, for all intents and purposes, a supersized version of the weekly show, complete with guest hosts, new skits and full-length musical numbers. You certainly succeeded in bringing a sense of the unpredictable, madcap highs and lows of a live show to the anniversary celebration. But I have to wonder if it was the best way to showcase 40 years of SNL.
There seemed little point in reprising old skits, word for word – as Aykroyd did with the Bassomatic – when the original clips would have been so much funnier. After Dana Carvey’s dutiful rendition of “Chopping Broccoli,” there was a momentary pause before the audience applauded, as though they couldn’t quite believe that was all he was going to do with it.
New skits – Celebrity Jeopardy and The Californians – had their moments, but were hampered by too many celebrity hangers-on. Jeopardy, in particular, featured some standout performances by Darrell Hammond, Kate McKinnon and others, but felt fragmented due to the sheer number of participants. Likewise, the Weekend Update segment, with Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Jane Curtin, was a delightfully sharp collaboration, except for the constant interruptions by A-listers eager to impersonate their favorite SNL characters.
The Wayne’s World skit, with its list of Top Ten Things About Saturday Night Live, was a welcome change of pace, in that it managed to honor the show and amuse the audience at the same time. Your beguiling montage of SNL audition videos was another major highlight. (I still can’t believe you passed on Jim Carrey.) Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg’s new Digital Short “That’s When You Break” brought down the house with an infectiously funny clip reel of cast members giving in to the giggles.
All of which made me wonder why you were so averse to an anniversary clip show. Were you afraid you’d look like a slacker if you didn’t lead with new material? Were you worried that the classics had become stale? Mr. Michaels, the truth is that we viewers LOVE the clips, and the chance to see them again is the main reason we tune in to these retrospectives. I mean, Chris Farley as a Chippendales dancer? Tina Fey as Sarah Palin? Martin Short and Harry Shearer as synchronized swimmers? I’m laughing out loud just thinking about them! I feel certain that your team is more than capable of creating new ways to present these treasures so they never get old (see “That’s When You Break” above.) You’ve got 40 years’ worth of comedy gold in the vault over there at NBC. Please don’t be so stingy with it next time.
Speaking of next time, the SNL 50th Anniversary Show is only ten short years away, and I’d like to offer a few suggestions, if you don’t mind: Cut the duration of the show to two hours. Eliminate the musical guests and the celebrity groupies, except maybe a few of the frequent hosts. Make it clear to Eddie Murphy that there will be no more heartfelt tributes unless he participates in the show in some meaningful way. And most of all, bring on the clips! Then when we look back we can say, in the words of Chris Farley, “Remember the Saturday Night Live 50th Anniversary Special? That was awesome.”
A Saturday Night Live Fan