Saturday Night Live
|Saturday Night Live|
|Also known as||
|Created by||Lorne Michaels|
|Written by||See List of Saturday Night Live writers|
|Starring||See List of Saturday Night Live cast members|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||39|
|No. of episodes||763 (List of episodes)|
|Location(s)||NBC Studios, New York City|
|Running time||93 minutes (with commercials)|
|Picture format||480i (SDTV)
|Original run||October 11, 1975 – present|
|Related shows||TV Funhouse
Saturday Night Live Weekend Update Thursday
Saturday Night Live (abbreviated as SNL) is an American late-night live television sketch comedy and variety show created by Lorne Michaels and developed by Dick Ebersol. The show premiered on NBC on October 11, 1975, under the original title NBC's Saturday Night. The show's comedy sketches, which parody contemporary culture and politics, are performed by a large and varying cast of repertory and newer cast members. Each episode is hosted by a celebrity guest (who usually delivers an opening monologue and performs in sketches with the cast) and features performances by a musical guest. An episode normally begins with a cold open sketch that ends with someone breaking character and proclaiming, "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!", beginning the show proper.
In 1980, Michaels left the series to explore other opportunities. He was replaced by Jean Doumanian, who was replaced by Ebersol after a season of bad reviews. Ebersol ran the show until 1985, when Michaels returned; Michaels has remained since then. Many of SNL's cast found national stardom while appearing on the show, and achieved success in film and television, both in front of and behind the camera. Others associated with the show, such as writers, have gone on to successful careers creating, writing, or starring in TV and film.
Broadcast from Studio 8H at NBC's headquarters in the GE Building, SNL has aired 763 episodes since its debut, and began its thirty-ninth season on September 28, 2013, making it one of the longest-running network television programs in the United States. The show format has been developed and recreated in several countries, including Spain, Italy, Brazil, Japan, and South Korea, each meeting with different levels of success. Successful sketches have seen life outside of the show as feature films, although only two met with critical and financial success: The Blues Brothers (1980) and Wayne's World (1992). The show has been marketed in other ways, including home media releases of "best of" and whole seasons, and books and documentaries about behind-the-scenes activities of running and developing the show.
Throughout more than three decades on air, Saturday Night Live has received a number of awards, including 36 Primetime Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award, and three Writers Guild of America Awards. In 2000, it was inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame. It was ranked tenth in TV Guide's "50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time" list, and in 2007 it was listed as one of Time magazine's "100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME". As of 2012, it has received 156 Emmy nominations, the most received by any one show in television history. The live aspect of the show has resulted in several controversies and acts of censorship, with mistakes and intentional acts of sabotage by performers and guests alike.
- 1 Development
- 2 Cast and crew
- 3 Production
- 4 Broadcast
- 5 Reception
- 6 In other media
- 7 Controversies
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
|History of Saturday Night Live series:|
From 1965 until September 1975, NBC ran The Best of Carson reruns of The Tonight Show, airing them on either Saturday or Sunday night at local affiliates' discretion (originally known as The Saturday/Sunday Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson). In 1974, Johnny Carson announced that he wanted the weekend shows pulled and saved so that they could be aired during weeknights, allowing him to take time off.
In 1974, NBC president Herbert Schlosser approached his vice president of late night programming, Dick Ebersol, and asked him to create a show to fill the Saturday night time slot. At the suggestion of Paramount Pictures executive Barry Diller, Schlosser and Ebersol then approached Lorne Michaels. Over the next three weeks, Ebersol and Michaels developed the latter's idea for a variety show featuring high-concept comedy sketches, political satire, and music performances. By 1975, Michaels had assembled a talented cast, including Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Michael O'Donoghue, Gilda Radner, and George Coe. The show was originally called NBC's Saturday Night, because Saturday Night Live was in use by Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell on the rival network ABC. NBC purchased the rights to the name in 1976 and officially adopted the new title on March 26, 1977.
Debuting on October 11, 1975, the show became an instant hit, and as a result the cast members became suddenly famous. Chase left the show during the second season and was replaced by the new and upcoming comic Bill Murray. Aykroyd and Belushi left the show after season four. In 1980 (after season five), Michaels—emotionally and physically exhausted—requested to put the show on hiatus for a year to give him time to pursue other ideas. Concerned that the show would be cancelled without him, Michaels suggested writers Al Franken, Tom Davis, and Jim Downey as his replacements. However, NBC president Fred Silverman disliked Franken and—after Franken performed "Limo for a Lame-O", a scathing critique of Silverman's presidency—Silverman was furious at Franken and blamed Michaels for approving the sketch. Unable to get the deal he wanted, Michaels chose to leave NBC for Paramount Pictures, intending to take his associate producer, Jean Doumanian, with him. Michaels later learned that Doumanian had been given his position at SNL after being recommended by her friend, NBC vice-president Barbara Gallagher. Michaels' departure led to most of the cast and writing staff leaving the show.
The reputation of the show as a springboard to fame meant that many aspiring stars were eager to join the new series. Doumanian was tasked with hiring a full cast and writing staff in less than three months, and NBC immediately cut the show's budget from the previous $1 million per episode down to just $350,000. Doumanian faced resentment and sabotage from the remaining Michaels staff, particularly males who did not appreciate a woman believing she could take Michaels' place. The season was a disaster; ratings plummeted, and audiences failed to connect to the original cast's replacements, such as Charles Rocket and Ann Risley. Doumanian's fate was sealed when, during a sketch, Rocket said "fuck" on live television. After only ten months, Doumanian was dismissed. Although executives suggested that SNL be left to die, network chief Brandon Tartikoff wanted to keep the show going, believing that the concept was more important to the network than money. Tartikoff turned to Ebersol, who previously had been fired by Silverman. Ebersol gained Michaels' approval in an attempt to avoid the same staff sabotage that had blighted Doumanian's tenure.
|"He [Lorne Michaels] put me on TV, and no one else would have done that. Lorne created a show that's impacted culture for over 35 years. No one has ever really successfully been able to replicate it."|
|-- Tina Fey on Michaels' influence on comedy.|
Ebersol's tenure saw commercial success, but was considered lackluster compared to the Michaels era, except for the breakout of cast member Eddie Murphy. Murphy, the main draw of the cast, left in 1984 to pursue his already successful film career, and Ebersol decided to again rebuild the cast. He broke from history by hiring established comedians such as Billy Crystal and Martin Short who could bring their already successful material to the show. Ebersol's final year with this new cast is considered one of the series' funniest, but had strayed far from the precedent-shattering show that Michaels had created. After that season, Ebersol wanted a more significant revamp, including departing from the show's established "live" format. Following unsuccessful forays into film and television, in need of money, and eager not to see Tartikoff cancel the show, Michaels finally returned in 1985 after Ebersol opted not to. The show was again recast, with Michaels borrowing Ebersol's idea, and seeking out established acts such as Joan Cusack and Robert Downey, Jr. The cast and writers struggled creatively, and in April 1986, Tartikoff made the decision to cancel the show, until he was convinced by producer Bernie Brillstein to give it one more year. The show was renewed but for the first time in its history, for only thirteen episodes instead of the usual twenty-two. Michaels again fired most of the cast and, learning his lesson from the previous seasons, sought out unknown talent such as Dana Carvey and Phil Hartman instead of known names.
The show ran successfully again until it lost Carvey and Hartman, two of its biggest stars, between 1992 and 1994. Wanting to increase SNL's ratings and profitability, then-NBC West Coast president Don Ohlmeyer and other executives began to actively interfere in the show, recommending that new stars such as Chris Farley and Adam Sandler be fired because Ohlmeyer did not "get" them, and critiquing the costly nature of performing the show live. The show faced increasing criticism from the press and cast, in part encouraged by the NBC executives hoping to weaken Michaels' position. Michaels received a lucrative offer to develop a Saturday night project for CBS during this time, but remained loyal to SNL. By 1995, Farley and Sandler were fired, and Mike Myers, another popular cast member, had left for a film career, but a new cast waited to replace them, featuring the likes of Will Ferrell, Jimmy Fallon, and Tina Fey. The show focused on performers, and writers were forced to supply material for the casts' existing characters before they could write original sketches. By 1997, Ohlmeyer renewed his focus on limiting Michaels' independence, forcing the removal of Downey and cast member Norm MacDonald.
Cast and crew
The original 1975 cast of SNL, officially known on-air as "The Not Ready For Prime-Time Players", a term coined by writer Herb Sargent, included Laraine Newman, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, Garrett Morris and Chevy Chase. Radner was the first person hired after Michaels himself. Although Chase became a performer, he was hired on a one-year writer contract, and refused to sign the performer contract that was repeatedly given to him, allowing him to leave the show after the first season in 1976. Newman was brought aboard after having a prior working relationship with Michaels. Morris was initially brought in as a writer, but attempts to have him fired by another writer led Michaels to have Morris audition for the cast, where he turned in a successful performance. Curtin and Belushi were the last two cast members hired. Belushi had a disdain for television and had repeatedly turned down offers to appear on other shows, but decided to work with the show because of the involvement of Radner, and writers Anne Beatts and Michael O'Donoghue. Michaels was still reluctant to hire Belushi, believing he would be a source of trouble for the show, but Beatts, O'Donoghue and Ebersol successfully argued for his inclusion. After Chase left the show he was replaced by Bill Murray, whom Michaels had intended to hire for the first-season cast, but was unable to due to budget restrictions. When Chase returned to host in 1978, he found the remaining cast resentful at his departure and his success, particularly Belushi. Murray, goaded by the rest of the cast, and Chase came to blows shortly before the show. Chase's departure for film made Michaels possessive of his talent; he threatened to fire Aykroyd if he took the role of D-Day in the 1978 comedy Animal House, and later refused to allow SNL musician Paul Shaffer to participate in The Blues Brothers (1980) with Aykroyd and Belushi after they left in 1979 to pursue film careers. Michaels began to struggle to hold the remaining cast together in the wake of Chase, Aykroyd, and Belushi's independent successes. Radner had a one-woman Broadway show and Murray starred in the 1979 comedy Meatballs. In 1980, when Michaels chose to leave the series to pursue other interests, he was followed by the remaining original cast, Curtin, Newman, and Morris, Murray, and additional cast members.
The Doumanian-era cast faced immediate comparison to the beloved former cast and were not received favorably. Ebersol fired the majority of her hires, except for two unknown comedians: Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo. Talent coordinator Neil Levy claimed Murphy contacted and pleaded with him for a role on the show, and after seeing him audition, Levy fought with Doumanian to cast him instead of Robert Townsend. Doumanian wanted only one black cast member and favored Townsend, but Levy convinced her to choose Murphy. Doumanian, however, also claimed credit for discovering Murphy and fighting with NBC executives to bring him onto the show. Even so, Murphy would languish as a background character until Ebersol took charge, after which Murphy was credited with much of that era's success. Murphy's star exploded, and he quickly appeared in films such as 48 Hrs. and Trading Places, before leaving for his film career in early 1984. Much of the Ebersol cast departed after the 1983–84 season and were replaced with established comedians who could supply their own material, but at an inflated cost; Billy Crystal and Martin Short were paid $25,000 and $20,000 per episode respectively, a far cry from earlier salaries. Michaels' return in 1985 saw a cast reset that featured established talent such as Robert Downey Jr., Jon Lovitz and Dennis Miller. The season was poorly received, and another reset followed in 1986. Learning his lesson from the previous season, Michaels avoided known talent in favor of actual ability. He kept Lovitz, Miller and Nora Dunn, and brought in new, untested talent such as Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, and Jan Hooks, who together would define a new era on the show into the early 1990s. The cast continued on for the next decade with the addition of new talent such as Mike Myers, Adam Sandler, and Chris Farley. Afraid of cast leaving for film, Michaels had overcrowded the cast, causing a divide between the veteran members and the new, younger talent, increasing competition for limited screen time. By 1995, Carvey and Hartman had left, taking with them a virtual army of characters, Myers quit for his movie career, and increasing network pressure forced Michaels to fire Sandler and Farley. The show saw its next major overhaul, bringing in a new cast including Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, and Jimmy Fallon. While cast members would leave over the following two decades, the show saw its next biggest transition in 2013, with the addition of 6 cast members to compensate for the departure of several longtime cast members like Bill Hader, Jason Sudeikis, and Fred Armisen.
SNL has featured over 130 cast members including Rachel Dratch, Amy Poehler, Chris Rock, David Spade, Will Forte, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tracy Morgan, Chris Parnell, Maya Rudolph, and Kristen Wiig. Darrell Hammond is the longest-serving cast member, having been a part of the cast for fourteen years between 1995 and 2009. Those selected to join the cast of SNL are normally already accomplished performers, recruited from improvisational comedy groups such as The Groundlings (Ferrell, Hartman, Lovitz, Wiig) and The Second City (Aykroyd, Farley, Fey, Tim Meadows), or established stand-up comedians (Carvey, Sandler, Rock, Norm Macdonald), who already possess the training or experience necessary for SNL.
Of the many roles available in the show, one of the longest-running and most coveted is being the host of "Weekend Update", a segment which has alternated between having one or two hosts, and which allows the cast members involved to perform as themselves and be on camera for an extended period of time. Many of the "Weekend Update" hosts have gone on to find greater success outside of the show, including: Chase, Curtin, Murray, Miller, Macdonald, Fey, Fallon, and Poehler. From 2008, Seth Meyers was the solo host of "Weekend Update", before being partnered with Cecily Strong in 2013. After Meyers left for Late Night with Seth Meyers in February 2014, Strong was paired with head writer Colin Jost. The cast is divided into two tiers: the more established group of repertory players; and newer, unproven cast members known as featured players, who may eventually be promoted to the repertory stable. The show's current cast is listed below:
|Current Repertory players||Current Featured players|
The cast were often contracted from anywhere between five and six years to the show, but starting with the 1999–2000 season, new hires were tied to a rewritten contract that allowed NBC to take a cast member in at least their second year and put them in an NBC sitcom. Cast are given the option of rejecting the first two sitcom offers but must accept the third offer, with the sitcom contract length dictated by NBC and potentially lasting up to six years. The move drew criticism from talent agents and managers who believed that a cast member could be locked into a contract with NBC for twelve years; six on SNL and then six on a sitcom. The contract also optioned the cast member for three feature films produced by SNL Films, a company owned by NBC, Paramount Pictures, and Michaels. The new contracts were reportedly developed after many previously unknown cast, such as Myers and Sandler, gained fame on SNL only to leave and make money for other studios. In a 2010 interview, Wiig was reported to be contracted to SNL for a total of seven years. The contracts also contain a network option which allows NBC to remove a cast member at any time. In the first season of the show, cast were paid $750 per episode, rising to $2,000 by season two, and $4,000 by season four. By the late 1990s, new cast members received a salary between $5,000 and $5,500 per episode, increasing to $6,000 in the second year and up to $12,500 for a cast member in their fifth year. Performers could earn an additional $1,500 per episode for writing a sketch which made it to air. In 2001, Ferrell became the highest paid cast member, being paid $350,000 per season (approximately $17,500 per episode). In 2014, Sasheer Zamata was added as a cast member in mid-season after criticism about the show's lack of an African-American woman.
As of the 2013–14 season, Colin Jost and Rob Klein are the show's co-head writers. Meyers had been co-head writer since 2005 and became the single head writer from 2008 to 2012. The "Weekend Update" segment has its own dedicated team of writers led by head writer and producer Alex Baze as of the 2011–12 season. Scenes on "Weekend Update" that involve members of the cast acting in-character alongside the host are often written by staff writers outside of the dedicated "Weekend Update" team, who know those characters better.
SNL writers are often also performers or experienced in writing and improvisational comedy. Many are hired from similar backgrounds such as The Groundlings, Second City, Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, and ImprovOlympic. Experienced writers with backgrounds in television shows are also sometimes brought into the SNL writing room. Like the SNL cast that step before the cameras, many of the writers have been able to find their own success outside the show such as O'Brien, who was brought into SNL from The Groundlings, went on to writing for The Simpsons, and eventually began hosting his own show, and former head writer Adam McKay who, along with performer Ferrell, founded the successful comedy website Funny or Die. In 2000, Fey became the first female SNL head writer and successfully transitioned into starring on the show, as well as writing and starring in feature films, and ultimately creating and starring in her own show 30 Rock—partly based on her SNL experiences. In 2005, Fey was being paid $1.5 million per season for her dual role as head writer and performer.
Don Pardo served as the announcer for the series when it first began, and has continued in the role for all but season seven between 1981 and 1982, when Michaels had left and Mel Brandt and Bill Hanrahan filled the announcing role. In 2004, Pardo announced that he would step down from his position, but then continued in the role until 2009 where he again announced his retirement, but then continued into the 2009–10 season. In 2010, then 92-year old Pardo was reported to be again considering his retirement, but as of the 2013–14 season, he continues to serve as the announcer. Apart from a brief period in 2006 in which Pardo pre-recorded his announcements at his home in Arizona, he has flown to New York City to perform his announcing duties live. Cast members Joe Piscopo and Darrell Hammond also periodically impersonated Pardo and fulfilled his announcing duties when Pardo was unavailable.
Hosts and musical guests
A typical episode of SNL will feature a single host chosen for their popularity, novelty, or because they have a film, album or other work being released near the time of their appearance on the show. The host delivers the opening monologue and performs in sketches with the cast. Traditionally the host of the show ends the opening monologue by introducing the musical guest for the night. Comedian George Carlin was the first to host SNL in the debut October 1975 episode; three episodes later, Candice Bergen became the first female host and subsequently the first to host more than once. Hosts have been drawn from a wide spectrum of backgrounds, from actors, such as Christopher Walken, Buck Henry, and John Goodman, to musicians like George Harrison and Dolly Parton, to political activist Ralph Nader. Guests who have hosted five or more times are sometimes referred to as belonging to the Five-Timers Club, a term that originated on a sketch performed on Tom Hanks' fifth episode. As of September 24, 2011, actor Alec Baldwin holds the record for most times hosting, having performed the duty on sixteen different occasions since 1990; Baldwin took the record from actor Steve Martin who had hosted fifteen times since 1976.
Each episode also features a musical guest, a solo act or a band, who perform two to three musical numbers. Occasionally, the musical guest has also simultaneously served as the host. As of May 19, 2012, Dave Grohl is the most frequent musical guest, performing on eleven shows since 1992. Michaels does not allow musical guests to perform using lip-synching tracks, believing it diminishes the live aspect of the show. Exceptions are only made when the musical act is focused on intense dance routines instead of vocals, where it is difficult to be both heavily physically active and sing simultaneously. A 1975 performance by pop group ABBA was the first and only act to feature lip-synching, until the controversial 2004 performance of Ashlee Simpson.
The SNL Band
The Saturday Night Live Band (also known as "The Live Band") is the house band for SNL. Academy Award-winning composer Howard Shore served as the first musical director, from 1975 to 1980, appearing in many musical sketches, including Howard Shore and His All-Nurse Band and (backing a U.S. Coast Guard chorus) Howard Shore and the Shore Patrol. Over the years, the band has featured several New York studio musicians including Paul Shaffer (1975–1980), Lou Marini (1975–1983), David Sanborn (1975), Michael Brecker (early 1980s), Ray Chew (1980–1983), Alan Rubin (1975–1983), Georg Wadenius (1979–1985), Steve Ferrone (1985), David Johansen (performing as Buster Poindexter), Tom Malone (who took over as musical director from 1981 to 1985), and G.E. Smith (musical director from 1985 to 1995). The band is currently under the leadership of Tower of Power alumnus Lenny Pickett, keyboardist Leon Pendarvis and Eli Bruegemann who does not play in the band on the live show. The number of musicians has varied over the years, but the basic instrumentation has been three saxophones, one trombone, one trumpet, and a rhythm section featuring two keyboards, a guitar, bass, drums, and an extra percussionist, not a permanent part of the band until Valerie Naranjo's arrival in 1995. The 1983–1984 and 1984–1985 seasons featured the smallest band, a six-piece combo. The band plays instrumentals leading in and out of station breaks; affiliates who run no advertising during these interludes hear the band play complete songs behind a Saturday Night Live bumper graphic until the program resumes.
Since the show's inception, SNL has aired from Studio 8H, located on floors 8 and 9 of the GE Building (30 Rockefeller Plaza, or "30 Rock"). The studio had previously been used as a radio soundstage for Arturo Toscanini and his NBC Symphony Orchestra. Michaels was dumbfounded when he originally inspected Studio 8H in 1975, and found it technically limited, outdated, in need of repair, and lacking the capacity to host a live show. Michaels demanded that NBC executives rebuild the studio and improve the acoustics to accommodate the intended musical acts, at a cost of approximately $300,000. Three of the first four shows of the 1976–77 season were shot at the former NBC Studios in Brooklyn, due to NBC News using Studio 8H for Presidential election coverage.
During the summer 2005 shooting hiatus, crews began renovations on Studio 8H. With its thirty-first season premiere in October 2005, the show began broadcasting in high-definition television, appearing letterboxed on conventional television screens. The offices of SNL writers, producers, and other staff can be found on the 17th floor of "30 Rock".
Creating an episode
Production on an SNL episode will normally start on a Monday with a free-form pitch meeting between the cast, writers, producers including Michaels, and the guest host, in Michaels' office, over two hours. The host is invited to pitch ideas during this meeting. Although some sketch writing may occur on the day, the bulk of the work revolves around pitching ideas. Tuesday is the only day dedicated purely to writing the scripts, a process which can extend through the night into the following Wednesday. Writing may not begin until 8pm on the Tuesday evening. At 5pm on Wednesday, the sketches are read during a round-table meeting in the writers room, attended by the writers and producers present during the pitch meeting, technical experts such as make-up artists, who may be required to realize certain sketch ideas such as those using prosthetics, and other producers, resulting in an attendance of approximately fifty people. At this point there may be at least 40 sketch ideas which are read-through in turn, lasting upwards of three hours.
After completion of the read-through, Michaels, the head writer, the guest host, and some of the show producers will move to Michaels' office to decide the layout of the show and decide which of the sketches will be developed for air. Once complete, the writers and cast are allowed into Michaels' office to view the show breakdown and learn whether or not their sketch has survived. Sketches may be rewritten starting the same day, but will certainly commence on Thursday, work focuses on developing and rewriting the remaining sketches, and possibly rehearsals. If a sketch is still scheduled beyond Thursday, it is rehearsed on Friday or Saturday before moving to a rehearsal before a live audience at 8pm, again on Saturday before the live show. After the rehearsal, Michaels will review the show lineup to ensure it meets a 90-minute length, and sketches that have made it as far as the live rehearsal may be removed. This often results in less than two days of rehearsal for the eight to twelve sketches that have made it to the stage that then may appear on the live broadcast. The opening monologue, spoken by the guest host, is given low priority and can be written as late as Saturday afternoon.
According to an interview with Fey in 2004, the three- to four-member dedicated "Weekend Update" writing team will write jokes throughout the week. The host(s) of "Weekend Update" will normally not work with, or read the scripts from, the team until Thursday evening, after the main show sketches have been finalized. The host(s) will then work on contributing to the script where necessary.
With onsite facilities housed on floors 8 and 17 of Rockefeller Plaza, post-production duties on live broadcasts of Saturday Night Live include the mixing of audio and video elements by the Senior Audio Mixer, coupled with additional audio feeds consisting of music, sound effects, music scoring and pre-recorded voiceovers. All sources are stored digitally, with shows captured and segregated into individual elements to reorganise for future repeats and syndication. The production tracking system was migrated from primarily analog to digital in 1998, with live shows typically requiring 1.5 terabytes of storage, consisting of audio elements and 5 cameras worth of visual elements. Elements of Saturday Night Live that are pre-recorded, such as certain commercial parodies, SNL Digital Shorts, and show graphics are processed off-site in the post-production facilities of Broadway Video.
Filming and photography
Studio 8H production facilities are maintained by NBC Production Services. Video camera equipment includes four Sony BVP-700 CCD cameras, and two Sony BVP-750 CCD handheld cameras, both using Vinten pedestals. A GVG 4000-3 digital component production switcher, and GVG 7000 digital component routing switcher are used to route visual feeds to the control room, with multiple digital and analogue video recorders used to store footage. Graphics are provided by a Chyron Infinit! character generator and a Quantel PictureBox. Audio facilities consist of a Calrec T Series digitally controlled analogue mixing console, and a Yamaha digital mixing console used for tape playback support and utility audio work.
As of 2009, the opening title sequence and opening montage is shot using the Canon EOS 5D Mark II and Canon EOS 7D digital SLR cameras. Typical elements are recorded at 30 fps, with slow-motion sequences shot at 60 fps, both in full 1080p high definition.
Edie Baskin was the original SNL photographer. She was hired after Michaels saw her photographs of Las Vegas and other work. Baskin helped create the opening title sequence for the show by taking photos of New York City at night. The first episode used publicity photos of Carlin as transitional bumpers between the show and commercial breaks, the second episode used photos Baskin had already taken of then host Paul Simon. It was then that Michaels suggested that Baskin photograph the hosts for the bumpers instead of using publicity photos, beginning a tradition which continues today.
Since 1999, Mary Ellen Matthews has been the official photographer of SNL, responsible for devising distinctive photo layouts and aesthetics for still imagery used on the show. Matthews creates photo portraits of the hosts and musical guests of each episode which are used as commercial bumpers. The limited time frame between the host's involvement in the production process and the Live show requires Matthews to create makeshift photo studios on site at 30 Rock, with Matthews attempting to shoot the host on Tuesday and the musical guest on Thursday, although the availability of either can mean the photoshoot for both occurs as late as Thursday. Matthews employs flattering portrait lighting with hard lights to achieve a Hollywood style. On the lighting, Matthews commented: "I think it just helps the image pop off the screen...If you use soft or flat lighting, it becomes not as dimensional...The [classic Hollywood lighting] gives a little more contrast, and if I use edge lights and then light the background, it goes farther and farther back. I try to achieve that depth as much as I can." Matthews is also responsible for taking cast photos, behind the scenes images, documenting rehearsals, and promotional photos. As of 2010, she has also been involved in directing videos, including the show title sequence.
The show usually begins at 11:30 p.m. (EST), unless a delay occurs. The show broadcasts for one and a half hours, ending at 1 a.m. For the Mountain and Pacific time zones, NBC airs the prerecorded live show usually unedited, mistakes notwithstanding. Since the first opening in 1975 with Michael O'Donoghue, Chevy Chase, and John Belushi, the show has normally begun with a cold open sketch which ends with one or more cast members breaking character and proclaiming "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!", launching the opening credits.
Beginning February 2013, NBC has aired cut-down hour-long repeats at 10pm Saturday during the regular season, repeating the previous week's episode if it was original.
NBC and Broadway Video both hold the underlying rights to the show, while the copyright to every episode lies solely with NBC. From 1990 until 2004, Comedy Central and its predecessor Ha! re-aired reruns of the series, after which E! Entertainment Television signed a deal to reruns. Abbreviated thirty and sixty minute versions of the first five seasons aired as The Best of Saturday Night Live in syndication beginning in the 1980s and later on Nick at Nite in 1988. In September 2010, reruns of most episodes post-1998 began to air on VH1.
Because SNL has been a huge success in America, other countries have created their own versions of the show, including Spain, Italy, Japan and South Korea. SNL is also aired in the Middle East and North Africa on OSN Comedy every Saturday night, one week after it airs in the U.S.
Spain's version of the show was short-lived, only lasting a few episodes which aired on Thursdays and not Saturdays as the title suggested. This version copied heavily from the American version, in that they did their own versions of sketches that were already done on the original series. Italy's Saturday Night Live From Milan uses original material.
The Japanese version Saturday Night Live JPN, which ran for six months in 2011, was created in part with Lorne Michaels' production company, Broadway Video and broadcast on Fuji TV networks. The show followed the same format with a few minor differences, being only 45 minutes long and hosted by a permanent host. The cast was made up of seasoned comedians who take center stage and newcomers who play the background roles. It was broadcast once a month, and ended after six episodes, as planned from the start.
In 2014, two 90-minute specials will be broadcast in French on Télé-Québec in the Canadian province of Quebec under the title, SNL Québec; the specials are scheduled for broadcast February 8 and March 22, 2014. The specials will be hosted by Louis-José Houde and Stéphane Rousseau, and will be of the same format and length as the original SNL series.
- The episode scheduled for October 25, 1986, hosted by Rosanna Arquette, was not aired until November 8 due to NBC broadcasting Game 6 of the 1986 World Series between the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox; the game entered extra innings, causing that night's broadcast of SNL to be cancelled. The show was recorded for the studio audience starting at 1:30 a.m. Eastern Time, and broadcast two weeks later with an "apology" by Mets pitcher Ron Darling. (He explained that the Mets players had all been happy and excited to win the World Series game, widely considered one of the most memorable in the event's 109-year history, but of course they all had become upset and glum when, in the locker room afterwards, they found out that they had caused the first-ever cancellation of SNL. Footage showed the depressed players sadly staring at the locker room floor in shame.)
- The episode scheduled for February 10, 2001, hosted by Jennifer Lopez, aired 45 minutes late due to an XFL game. Lopez and the cast were not told they were airing on a delay. Michaels was so upset by the delay that the episode was re-run a mere three weeks later, and the fledgling league actually changed the rules in order to speed up play so that no such incident would happen again.
In 2002, the show was ranked tenth on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time, while in 2007 it was honored with inclusion on Time magazine's list of "100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME." In June 2013, the show was placed at number 25 on the list of the 101 best written shows of all time by the Writers Guild of America, assessing series from the previous 70 years. In December 2013, TV Guide ranked it #18 on their list of the 60 Greatest Shows of All Time.
Saturday Night Live has won numerous awards since its debut, including 36 Primetime Emmy Awards, 2 Peabody Awards, and 4 Writers Guild of America Awards. In 2009, it received a total of 13 Emmy nominations for a lifetime total of 126, breaking the record for the most award nominated show in Emmy history, previously set with 124 by hospital drama ER. As of August 2012, it has received a record total of 156 Emmy nominations. Only 17 cast members have received individual Emmy nominations in the show's entire history. Of these only Chevy Chase and Gilda Radner have won, taking the award for Outstanding Individual Performance, in 1976 and 1978 respectively. In 1983, Eddie Murphy became the last male cast member to be nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Emmy until Bill Hader nearly thirty years later in 2012: Hader received a second nomination in 2013, making him the cast's only male multiple nominee.
SNL has also had an effect on elections. Voters have reported that political sketches that were shown on the program influenced them in the voting booth. The media dubbed this the "The SNL Effect". The so-called SNL Effect was observed during the 2008 presidential campaign, according to Mike Dabadie. Two-thirds of voters who responded to a poll said they had seen a broadcast of politically charged content on SNL, with ten percent saying that it had made a difference in their decision. Barack Obama was the beneficiary of the political content, with 59 percent saying they did in fact cast a vote for the then-Democratic nominee.
Chevy Chase's bumbling impression of then-president Gerald Ford during the 1976 presidential election was cited as an influence on the election, and a quote commonly attributed to 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin stating "I can see Russia from my house" was actually spoken by SNL cast member Tina Fey while portraying Palin. Several politicians have appeared on SNL, including President Gerald Ford (in 1976), Senator (at the time) Barack Obama (2007), Senator John McCain (2002 & 2008), Senator Hillary Clinton (2008), and former Governor Sarah Palin (2008).
In other media
Currently, Universal Studios Home Entertainment and Lions Gate Entertainment hold video rights to the series. Universal has issued complete season DVD sets of the first few seasons, while Lionsgate's share of the rights are a result of prior contracts with NBC struck before the NBC Universal merger. A majority of Lionsgate's SNL DVDs are "Best Of..." compilations.
Saturday Night Live (ISBN 0-380-01801-2), the first authorized book about the series, was published by Avon Books in 1977 and edited by Anne Beatts and John Head, with photography by Edie Baskin; all three worked for SNL at the time the book was published. The oversized illustrated paperback included the scripts for several sketches by the 1975-1980 cast. In 1986, Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad authored Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live (ISBN 0-688-05099-9), a behind-the-scenes look at the first ten seasons. Saturday Night Live: The First Twenty Years (ISBN 0-395-75284-1), by Michael Cader, was released in 1994, and presented information about the cast, characters, and other memorable moments seen on the show from 1975 to 1994.
Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, as Told By Its Stars, Writers and Guests (ISBN 0-316-73565-5) was released in 2002. The book, written by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller, consists of interviews from people who have worked on the show. The interviews reveal personal experiences from what happened backstage and the difficulty of getting the show on air each week. In 2004, former cast member Jay Mohr released his memoir Gasping for Airtime: Two Years in the Trenches of Saturday Night Live (ISBN 1-401-30801-5), about his struggles during his two seasons on the show between 1993 and 1995, dealing with getting sketches on air and the intense work schedule. Cast member Bobby Moynihan described the book as "a handbook on what NOT to do at SNL."
SNL has made several efforts to develop some of the more popular sketches into feature-length films, with varying degrees of commercial and critical success. The first foray into film came with the successful Aykroyd and Belushi vehicle, The Blues Brothers (1980), which earned over $115 million on a $27 million budget.
In 1990, Michaels oversaw the writing of a sketch anthology feature film titled The Saturday Night Live Movie with many of the show's current writing staff, including Al Franken, Tom Davis, Greg Daniels, Jim Downey, Conan O'Brien, Robert Smigel and George Meyer, contributing. The screenplay only got as far as a Revised First Draft dated July 26, 1990 before being abandoned.
However, it was the success of Wayne's World (1992) that encouraged Michaels to produce more film spin-offs, based on several popular sketch characters. Michaels revived 1970s characters for Coneheads (1993), followed by It's Pat (1994); Stuart Saves His Family (1995); A Night at the Roxbury (1998); Superstar (1999) and The Ladies Man (2000). Some did moderately well, though others did not—notably, It's Pat, which did so badly at the box office that the studio that made the film, Touchstone Pictures (owned by The Walt Disney Company, which also owns NBC's rival ABC), pulled it only one week after releasing it, and Stuart Saves His Family, which lost $15 million. Many of these films were produced by Paramount Pictures. The films based on The Blues Brothers were produced by Universal Studios, which merged with NBC in 2004 to form NBC Universal (Universal also has a joint venture with Paramount for international distribution of the two studios' films).
|Box office revenue|
|The Blues Brothers||June 20, 1980||$27 million||$57,229,890||$58,000,000||$115,229,890|
|Wayne's World||February 14, 1992||$20 million||$121,697,323||$61,400,000||$183,097,323|
|Coneheads||July 23, 1993||$33 million||$21,274,717||N/A||$21,274,717|
|Wayne's World 2||December 10, 1993||$40 million||$48,197,805||N/A||$48,197,805|
|It's Pat||August 26, 1994||N/A||$60,822||N/A||$60,822|
|Stuart Saves His Family||April 14, 1995||$15 million||$912,082||$912,082|
|Blues Brothers 2000||February 6, 1998||$28 million||$14,051,384||N/A||$14,051,384|
|A Night at the Roxbury||October 2, 1998||$17 million||$30,331,165||N/A||$30,331,165|
|Superstar||October 8, 1999||$14 million||$30,636,478||N/A||$30,636,478|
|The Ladies Man||October 13, 2000||$24 million||$13,616,610||$126,602||$13,743,212|
|MacGruber||May 21, 2010||$10 million||$8,525,600||$797,295||$9,259,314|
The group The Folksmen first appeared on SNL, performing the song "Old Joe's Place" before later appearing in the film A Mighty Wind (2002). The three members of the Folksmen were the same three comedians: Harry Shearer, Michael McKean, and Christopher Guest, who also appeared on the same episode as the rock group Spinal Tap. At the time of the appearance (the 1984–85 season), Shearer and Guest were cast members.
In 2005, the comedy troupe The Lonely Island, consisting of SNL members Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone, gained national exposure after joining the show and debuting their skit music video "Lazy Sunday", written with fellow cast member Chris Parnell. The song became a surprise hit, and convinced Michaels to encourage the troupe to develop more comedy songs. Further successes with songs including "Like A Boss, "Jizz in My Pants," "I'm on a Boat," "We Like Sportz", "Boombox," and "Dick in a Box"—which won an Emmy for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics in 2007—saw The Lonely Island go on to release two albums, Incredibad (2009) and Turtleneck & Chain (2011), containing SNL-developed songs and original works. The albums were released by Universal Republic Records who were provided with a license to the SNL songs by NBC and Broadway Video.
A cast album was released in 1976 on the Arista label including the song "Chevy's Girls" and comedy bits from the show ("Weekend Update", "Emily Litella", "Gun Control"); it was later re-issued on CD and MP3 download.
Several programs have documented the behind-the-scenes events of the show. A 60 Minutes report taped in October 2004 depicted the intense writing frenzy that goes on during the week leading up to a show, with crowded meetings and long hours. The report particularly noted the involvement of the guest host(s) in developing and selecting the sketches in which they will appear. Similarly, there has been an A&E episode of Biography which covered the production process, as well as an episode of TV Tales in 2002 on E!. In 2010, Saturday Night, a 94-minute documentary by actor James Franco in his directorial debut, was released; it follows the production process of the December 6, 2008, episode hosted by John Malkovich, from the concept stage to the episode actually airing live. Although it originated as a five-minute short film for Franco's New York University film class, Michaels granted Franco access to the process, allowing the project to be expanded.
In September 2011, ice cream company Ben & Jerry's released a limited-edition ice cream called "Schweddy Balls", inspired by a 1998 sketch of the same name starring Alec Baldwin, Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon. The ice cream became the fastest-selling Ben & Jerry's limited-edition flavor. The ice cream was also subject to criticism and boycotts by the One Million Moms organization over the "vulgar" name. Some retail chains chose not to sell the flavor, but declined to say if the decision was at their own discretion or based on the One Million Moms boycotts.
Andrew Dice Clay
Andrew Dice Clay was scheduled as host on the May 12, 1990, episode. Cast member Nora Dunn immediately announced to the press that she was boycotting the show in protest at Clay's perceived misogynistic, politically incorrect act, doing so without informing Michaels, the cast or most of the crew about her intent. The backlash was immediate; casting Clay was compared to the Holocaust by an audience member during an interview with Michaels, female members of the cast and crew were harassed by phone and mail for sticking with the show, and metal detectors were installed at the show to enhance security. NBC censors insisted that the episode be placed on a delay to compensate for anything Clay might say on air. During the live show, some audience members heckled Clay and were immediately removed by the increased security detail. Dunn's contract was already coming to an end, and with one episode left in the season, the staff voted against having her take part in the final episode or return. Sinéad O'Connor was scheduled to be the musical guest for the episode, but she boycotted the show because of Clay's involvement, forcing the producers to find musical replacements.
On October 3, 1992, Sinéad O'Connor was scheduled to appear, performing an a cappella performance of Bob Marley's "War". During the dress rehearsal, O'Connor held up a photo of a Balkan child as a protest of child abuse in war before bowing and leaving the stage, which the episode's director Dave Wilson described as a "very tender moment". However, during the live show, O'Connor altered the "War" lyric "fight racial injustice" to "fight child abuse" as a protest against the cases of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. She presented a photo of Pope John Paul II while singing the word "evil", before tearing the image into pieces and saying "Fight the real enemy". NBC had no foreknowledge of O'Connor's plan, and Wilson purposely failed to use the "applause" button, leaving the audience to sit in silence. Michaels made the decision to allow O'Connor to take the stage with the rest of the cast at the end of the show, for which he was later punished. NBC received thousands of irate calls in the aftermath of the incident, and protests against O'Connor occurred outside of the 30 Rock building, where a steamroller crushed dozens of her tapes, CD's and LP's. In the following weeks on SNL, guests Joe Pesci and Madonna both voiced their opposition to O'Connor.
As of 2012, NBC still declines to rebroadcast the sequence with the exception of an interview with O'Connor on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, which aired on April 24, 2010, when the clip was aired in full. In reruns the incident is replaced with the dress rehearsal performance. The original episode was made available on volume four of the SNL DVD special Saturday Night Live - 25 Years of Music, with an introduction by Michaels about the incident. On February 20, 2011, the clip was aired on the SNL special "Backstage" showing footage of the dress rehearsal and live performance side by side. The footage cuts to interviewees during the moment the photo was ripped.
Rage Against the Machine
On April 13, 1996, musical guests Rage Against the Machine (RATM) were scheduled to perform two songs. The show was hosted that night by billionaire Steve Forbes. According to RATM guitarist Tom Morello, "RATM wanted to stand in sharp juxtaposition to a billionaire telling jokes and promoting his flat tax by making our own statement." To this end, the band hung two upside-down American flags from their amplifiers. Seconds before they took the stage to perform "Bulls on Parade", SNL and NBC sent stagehands in to pull the flags down. Following the removal of the flags during the first performance, the band was approached by SNL and NBC officials and ordered to immediately leave the building. Upon hearing this, bassist Tim Commerford reportedly stormed Forbes' dressing room, throwing shreds from one of the torn-down flags. Morello noted that members of the SNL cast and crew, whom he declined to name, "expressed solidarity with our actions, and a sense of shame that their show had censored the performance."
Ashlee Simpson appeared as a musical guest on October 23, 2004. Her first performance, "Pieces of Me," was performed without incident, but when she began her second song, "Autobiography," the vocals for "Pieces of Me" were heard again—before she had even raised the microphone to her mouth. Simpson began to do an impromptu jig, and then left the stage. During the closing of the show Simpson appeared with the guest host Jude Law and said: "I'm so sorry. My band started playing the wrong song, and I didn't know what to do, so I thought I'd do a hoedown."
On October 25, Simpson explained that due to complications arising from severe acid reflux disease, she had completely lost her voice and her doctor had advised her not to sing. Her father wanted her to use a vocal guide track for the performance after she had suffered vocal issues during rehearsals. Simpson stated of the incident, "I made a complete fool of myself." According to Simpson, the drummer hit the wrong button, which caused the wrong track to be played. Lorne Michaels had been unaware of the plan to use lip synching, and said in an interview with 60 Minutes that he would not have allowed it. Simpson is the only musical guest ever to walk off stage during a live performance.
- On December 13, 1975, the show was forced by the network to run on a five-second delay when controversial comedian Richard Pryor hosted. Engineers at the show later said they did not run the delay because no one knew how to work it.
- A stand-up routine by Sam Kinison in the October 18, 1986, episode was edited in West Coast and later airings to replace two parts of the routine with a silent image of the previous season's cast. The first cutaway occurred when Kinison began asking for the legalization of cannabis and said: "You can't get any more pot. If you give us back the pot, we'll forget about the crack". The joke violated NBC policy of the time that all references to drugs must be negative. The second, longer cutaway occurred when Kinison made a joke about the Crucifixion. During rehearsal, Kinison had not performed the drug joke; he had performed, and been asked to remove, the Crucifixion joke.
- In a "Wayne's World" sketch, the characters Wayne and Garth (portrayed by Myers and Carvey, respectively) made fun of Chelsea Clinton (the then 12-year-old daughter of the then President-elect Bill Clinton), implying that Chelsea was incapable of causing males to "Schwing!". This joke was subsequently edited out of all repeats and syndication rebroadcasts of this sketch.
- A portion of Martin Lawrence's February 19, 1994, monologue concerning feminine hygiene has been removed from all repeats, replaced with a voice-over and intertitles stating that the excised portion "...was a frank and lively presentation, and nearly cost us all our jobs."
- In 1995, an Irish Bartender sketch, written by comedian Jay Mohr, was aired. By April 15, 1995, during the Saturday rehearsal, Mohr was brought to Michaels, and shown a video of the Irish Bartender act as performed by its creator, Rick Shapiro. Mohr denied any knowledge of Shapiro or his act at the time, but later admitted in his memoir that he had stolen the sketch word for word from Shapiro's work. Shapiro and his manager sued the show and gained an undisclosed settlement which included the sketch being removed from all reruns of the show.
- In March 1998, a Robert Smigel animated short film, "Conspiracy Theory Rock", aired. The short is a scathing political sketch accusing corporations including Disney, FOX, and then-owners of NBC General Electric, of developing a media monopoly to manipulate public perception, and conceal questionable actions. The clip aired only once as part of the original SNL episode and was removed from syndicated repeats with Michaels explaining that it "wasn't funny". The clip was eventually released as part of the Saturday TV Funhouse compilation DVD in 2006.
- A sketch involving "butt pregnancy" during the first broadcast of the November 12, 2005, episode was replaced with a musical sketch about cafeteria food during the repeat.
- On September 26, 2009, Jenny Slate made her SNL debut in a biker babe sketch alongside Wiig and actress Megan Fox, where their characters repeatedly use the word "frickin'". During one instance Slate instead accidentally said "fuckin'", which was dubbed over with "freakin'" for subsequent airings.
- On December 15, 2012, actor Samuel L. Jackson, appearing on the recurring Kenan Thompson sketch "What Up With That?" as a talk show guest whose segment was cut for time, exclaimed what sounded like the words "fuck" and "bullshit." Thompson ad-libbed in response, "C'mon, Sam, that costs money!" Jackson later claimed he hadn't said the full word "fuck" and that Thompson was supposed to cut off his second expletive.
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