originally published December 7, 2013
Some topics are simply too large to fit into a thousand words. When Wikipedia’s magic Randombulator dumped me on the page for Saturday Night Live, I struggled with how to approach a thousand-word breakdown of a 39-season-long show that has somehow affected or entertained nearly everyone in the known universe (by which I mean people whom I have specifically asked).
Do I tell the story of the show’s origins? Run through its most controversial moments? Focus specifically on the work of Joe Piscopo, because why not?
In the end, there’s too much. I have one day to research and write this, so to hell with a flowing exposition or narrative structure. Here’s some stuff about that thing.
- Actor George Coe, who presently appears as the voice of Woodhouse, the butler on Archer, was one of the original Not Ready For Prime-Time Players. He was only credited for the show’s first three episodes and for whatever reason he didn’t stick around.
- NBC West Coast president Don Ohlmeyer insisted that Chris Farley and Adam Sandler be fired from the show because he didn’t “get them.” He’s also the guy who ordered the firing of Norm McDonald. Ohlmeyer also gets credit for the weirdness of hiring Dennis Miller for a season of Monday Night Football. I’ll admit, I kind of liked Miller in the booth. But for the most part, fuck Don Ohlmeyer.
- SNL contracts include a clause that allows NBC to plunk a cast member in their second year into a sitcom. The cast member can turn down the first two offers, but they must accept the third. I’m not sure if this has ever been enforced, but it seems decidedly creepy.
- Original cast member Chevy Chase was banned from the show after a 1997 hosting gig that saw him verbally abuse the cast and crew. He is the only member of the “5-Timers Club” to have been banned.
- Speaking of the Club… there are fifteen members. Only two are women (Candace Bergen and Drew Barrymore). Steve Martin hit his fifth hosting gig the quickest, over the span of one year and 181 days. It took Drew Barrymore over 24 years to land her fifth show. The only hosts to have been invited ten or more times are Buck Henry (10), John Goodman (12), Steve Martin (15) and Alec Baldwin (16).
- In the first season, cast members were paid $750 per episode. Most recent numbers (from the late 90’s) start SNL newbies at $5000 per show, plus $1500 if a sketch they’d written gets on the air. Will Farrell was pulling in $350,000 per season at his peak (about $17k per show), and Tina Fey was cracking $1.5 million when she was both cast member and head writer.
- Drew Barrymore was the show’s youngest host at age 7, and Betty White it’s oldest at 88. They had a fleet of younger performers from Tina Fey to Maya Rudolph on standby in case Betty wasn’t up to the task. Betty showed up in every damn sketch because Betty White is Betty White.
- When Adrian Brody came out in fake dreadlocks and performed an impromptu 45-second ramble in a Jamaican accent before introducing (and mispronouncing) musical guest Sean Paul, he earned a lifetime ban from the show.
- Original SNL bandleader Howard Shore has since won three Academy Awards, for his score (and original song) in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy.
- The musician who has appeared the most often on the SNL stage? Dave Grohl, eleven times. I assume that includes his surprise appearance with Paul McCartney last year.
- Cast member Nora Dunn refused to appear on the May 12, 1990 episode because the host, comedian Andrew Dice Clay, was known for his offensive and misogynist schtick. She was told not to show up for the season finale the following week, and her contract wasn’t renewed for the fall.
- Sam Kinison had part of his 1986 stand-up set censored for the west coast feed because it contained a plea to legalize pot and a complaint as to its scarcity at the time. He said, “If you give us back the pot, we’ll forget about the crack!” I knew we were getting screwed, getting our broadcast from Spokane, Washington.
- James Franco’s directorial debut was a 94-minute 2010 documentary that went behind the scenes and showed the creative process behind a 2008 episode that featured John Malkovich as the host. The project began as part of Franco’s film class at New York University.
- John Belushi agreed to a cameo appearance during the 1981 Halloween episode, but only if punk band Fear was booked as the musical guest. The band had brought in a number of local punk rockers and skinheads, and proceeded to run up between $20,000 and $50,000 in damages as they slamdanced violently on stage.
- The process of making the show includes pitch day (Monday), writing day (Tuesday), read-through day (Wednesday), rewrite day (Thursday), with rehearsals for some sketches not beginning until Friday. This is why so many sketches feature performers who are clearly reading off teleprompters or cue-cards beside the camera.
- Saturday Night Live has been the name of the show since March 26, 1977. Before that it was known as NBC’s Saturday Night, because Howard Cosell hosted a sports show with the other name on ABC. Luckily, that show died young.
- Mary Ellen Matthews – you’ve never heard of her, but if you’ve watched the show since 1999 you’re familiar with her work. She’s the photographer who brilliantly captures the hosts and musical guests during the bumpers around commercial breaks. She also directed the opening credits.
- The February 10, 2001 episode was delayed for 45 minutes due to a lengthy XFL game. Due to the outrage that ensued, the rules of the league were actually changed to ensure this would not happen again. Then the league folded because it stunk.
- Sinead O’Connor’s controversial tearing of Pope John Paul II’s photograph was a surprise to everyone in the booth. In rehearsal she had held up a photo of a refugee child.
- Eleven films have been made from SNL sketches. Those that made money: Wayne’s World (both of them), The Blues Brothers, A Night At The Roxbury and Superstar. The biggest stinkers include Blues Brothers 2000 (budget: $28 million; box-office: $14 million), The Ladies Man (budget: $24 million; box-office $13.6 million), and Stuart Saves His Family (budget: $15 million; box-office: $912,000). The film It’s Pat doesn’t have a published budget, but it probably cost more than the $60,822 the movie brought in.
Saturday Night Live is currently in its 39th season. It has won 36 Emmy Awards, and slew of other accolades. The only individual Emmy winners have been Chevy Chase and Gilda Radner, but that’s because the show is a group effort. And so long as one of their self-re-inventions doesn’t tank completely, it’ll probably be on the air long after I’m gone.