Saturday Night Live (season 6)

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Saturday Night Live (season 6)
The title card for the sixth season of Saturday Night Live
Country of originUnited States
No. of episodes13
Original networkNBC
Original releaseNovember 15, 1980 (1980-11-15) –
April 11, 1981 (1981-04-11)
Season chronology
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season 7
List of Saturday Night Live episodes

The sixth season of Saturday Night Live, an American sketch comedy series, originally aired in the United States on NBC between November 15, 1980, and April 11, 1981.

This season was alternatively known as Saturday Night Live '80.


According to Tom Shales' book Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, Executive Producer Lorne Michaels cited burnout as the reason behind his desire to take a year off, and had been led to believe by NBC executives that the show would go on hiatus with him, and be ready to start fresh upon his return.[1] However, Lorne Michaels learned from associate producer Jean Doumanian that the show would go on with or without him, and that she had been chosen as his replacement, much to Michaels's surprise and dismay. Angered by this news, the entire cast and all but one writer (Brian Doyle-Murray) followed Lorne Michaels out the door. The sixth season began with a completely new cast and new writers, with Jean Doumanian at the helm.

Jean Doumanian hired Denny Dillon, Gilbert Gottfried, Gail Matthius, Joe Piscopo, Ann Risley and Charles Rocket (as repertory players), and Yvonne Hudson, Matthew Laurance and Patrick Weathers (as featured players), passing on such then-unknown performers as Jim Carrey, John Goodman and Paul Reubens.[2][3] Jean Doumanian sought a non-white cast member to fill Garrett Morris' previous role. As SNL scholars Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad phrase it,

Jean still needed an ethnic, and a special series of auditions was set up to find one. For two days in mid-September some thirty black actors and comedians filed through the writers' wing on the 17th floor [of Rockefeller Center] to read for Jean and her people. At the end, Jean told her group she was leaning toward hiring a stand-up by the name of Charlie Barnett. But talent coordinator Neil Levy had another black performer he wanted her to see, a kid from Roosevelt, Long Island, named Eddie Murphy.[4]

Some accounts state that Jean Doumanian preferred instead Robert Townsend, but Eddie Murphy was added (as a featured player) starting with the fourth episode, after much convincing from her colleagues and staff.[1]

With its team of entirely new writers and cast members, the show was plagued by problems from the start and deemed a commercial disappointment by critics, and by viewers as reflected in the Nielsen ratings. For much of the season, the show was in turmoil and many critics wrote the show off as a pale imitation of its former glory due to budget cuts, lack of support that was promised to Jean Doumanian by either the network or her staff, and stiff competition from ABC's Fridays, which, at the time, enjoyed critical acclaim and was gaining popularity as a similarly-"edgy", late-night sketch show that aired on a weekend.

On February 21, 1981, the show featured a parody of the "Who Shot J.R. Ewing?" episode from the hit TV show Dallas. In a cliffhanger titled "Who Shot C.R.?", cast member Charles Rocket was "shot" in the last sketch of the episode, after a running gag in which other members of the cast shared their grievances about Charles Rocket with one another. Onstage for the goodnights, Dallas star and that week's host, Charlene Tilton, asked Charles Rocket (who was still in character and sitting in a wheelchair) his thoughts on being shot. "Oh man, it's the first time I've been shot in my life", he replied. "I'd like to know who the fuck did it." The cast, along with some of the audience, reacted with laughter and applause.

Though this was not the first nor last time the expletive would be uttered live on SNL, Charles Rocket's line, unknown to him, would be the final straw that caused him and everyone else (save Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo) to be dismissed.[1] The next show would be Jean Doumanian's last episode. "This woman was a trainwreck," said then NBC President and CEO Fred Silverman in the Shales book. "The shows were just not watchable."

The show's new logo, used only for this season, featured the words "Saturday Night Live" in a pink graffiti text; it was accompanied in the 1980-aired episodes with "'80".

The Ebersol era begins[edit]

SNL was given one more chance when Dick Ebersol, one of the original developers of SNL in 1974 and the man responsible for hiring Lorne Michaels as show-runner in 1975, was hired to replace Jean Doumanian. In his first week, Dick Ebersol fired Gilbert Gottfried, Ann Risley and Charles Rocket, replacing them with Tim Kazurinsky, Catherine O'Hara and Tony Rosato. Dick Ebersol made offers to John Candy and Catherine O'Hara (of SCTV) to join the cast. John Candy turned down the offer, so Tony Rosato was added to the cast in his place. Catherine O'Hara initially accepted, but changed her mind after Michael O'Donoghue – the show's original head writer, who had been brought in to rejuvenate the show – screamed at the cast about the season's poor writing and performances. Catherine O'Hara suggested Robin Duke as her replacement, and Robin Duke was brought in. Catherine O'Hara never appeared on SNL as a cast member. Laurie Metcalf and Emily Prager joined as featured players.

Dick Ebersol's first produced episode was on April 11, 1981. After Dick Ebersol's first episode, the 1981 Writers' Guild of America strike started, forcing the show into a hiatus during which it was extensively retooled. Before the next season, Dick Ebersol also fired Denny Dillon and Gail Matthius, leaving Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo the only remaining cast members from Jean Doumanian's tenure.[2][5]


(Episodes 1–12)[edit]

bold denotes Weekend Update anchor

(Episode 13)[edit]


Brian Doyle-Murray returned as the only writer from the previous season. Pamela Norris and Terry Sweeney were also hired; the latter would become a cast member in 1985. Musician and Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour writer Mason Williams was the season's first head writer but left after clashing with Doumanian.[6] Jeremy Stevens and Tom Moore joined as head writers for the remaining Doumanian shows. Michael O'Donoghue was rehired after Doumanian's firing.

This season's writers included Larry Arnstein, Barry W. Blaustein, Billy Brown, Ferris Butler, John DeBellis, Jean Doumanian, Nancy Dowd, Brian Doyle-Murray, Leslie Fuller, Mel Green, David Hurwitz, Judy Jacklin, Sean Kelly, Mitchell Kriegman, Patricia Marx, Douglas McGrath, Tom Moore, Matt Neuman, Pamela Norris, Michael O'Donoghue, Mark Reisman, David Sheffield, Jeremy Stevens, Terry Sweeney, Bob Tischler, Mason Williams and Dirk Wittenborn.


No. in
HostMusical guest(s)Original air date
1071Elliott GouldKid Creole & the CoconutsNovember 15, 1980 (1980-11-15)

  • Kid Creole & the Coconuts performs "Mister Softee" and "There But for the Grace of God Go I".[7]
  • The cold opening has Elliott Gould (sixth time hosting) in bed with many of the cast members (a play on Gould's 1969 film Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice), who tries to allay their anxieties, and tells Gail Matthius she is "kind of a cross between Jane [Curtin] and Gilda [Radner]." Charles Rocket announces that he is a cross between Chevy Chase and Bill Murray, Ann Risley says she is "a cross between Gilda and Laraine [Newman]" and Gilbert Gottfried calls himself a cross between John Belushi and "that guy from last year" who did a Rod Serling impression (Harry Shearer).[8]
  • The first sketch, set in the Oval Office, showed Rosalynn Carter (Ann Risley) trying to seduce Jimmy Carter (Joe Piscopo) who is still depressed over his defeat in the 1980 presidential election, with Amy played by Dillon.
  • In the debut of the "Rocket Report" segment, Charles Rocket pesters people around The Dakota for information about John Lennon's upcoming album.
  • A short film by Blue Lagoon director Randal Kleiser titled "Foot Fetish" is shown.
  • Another short film, "Gidgette Goes To Hell" by Jonathan Demme also appears.
  • Wendie Malick appears in the background of the Nose Wrestling sketch.
  • Denny Dillon, Gilbert Gottfried, Gail Matthius, Joe Piscopo, Ann Risley and Charles Rocket's first episode as cast members.
  • Jean Doumanian's first episode as executive producer.
1082Malcolm McDowellCaptain Beefheart & His Magic BandNovember 22, 1980 (1980-11-22)

NOTE: Many SNL veterans (as of 1985) considers this episode as the single worst night in the program's history.[9]

1093Ellen BurstynAretha Franklin
Keith Sykes
December 6, 1980 (1980-12-06)

  • Aretha Franklin performs "United Together" and "Can't Turn You Loose".[7]
  • Keith Sykes performs "B.I.G. T.I.M.E.".[7]
  • A short film entitled "Fish Heads" for the song of the same title appears, directed by and starring Bill Mumy and Bill Paxton.
  • Eddie Murphy debuts as a "Weekend Update" commentator with a successful diatribe about basketball players.
1104Jamie Lee CurtisJames Brown
Ellen Shipley
December 13, 1980 (1980-12-13)

1115David CarradineLinda Ronstadt
The Cast of The Pirates of Penzance
December 20, 1980 (1980-12-20)

1126Ray SharkeyJack Bruce & FriendsJanuary 10, 1981 (1981-01-10)

1137Karen BlackCheap Trick
Stanley Clarke Trio
January 17, 1981 (1981-01-17)

  • Cheap Trick performs "Baby Loves to Rock" and "Can't Stop It But I'm Gonna Try".[7]
  • Stanley Clarke Trio performs "Deep in the Night".[7]

NOTE: SNL historians Hill and Weingrad wrote that this show "was actually funny all the way through."[10]

1148Robert HaysJoe "King" Carrasco & the Crowns
14 Karat Soul
January 24, 1981 (1981-01-24)

  • Joe "King" Carrasco & the Crowns performs "Don't Bug Me Baby"[7]
  • 14 Karat Soul performs "I Wish That We Were Married" and "This Time It's for Real".[7]
  • Eddie Murphy announces that he has been promoted from featured player to repertory player in this episode.
1159Sally KellermanJimmy CliffFebruary 7, 1981 (1981-02-07)

  • Jimmy Cliff performs "I Am the Living" and "Gone Clear".[7]
  • Sally Kellerman performs "Starting Over Again".
11610Deborah HarryDeborah Harry
Funky Four Plus One
February 14, 1981 (1981-02-14)

  • Deborah Harry performs "Love T.K.O." and "Come Back Jonee".[7]
  • With this show, Funky Four Plus One become the first hip-hop act to perform on SNL, as well as the first to appear on national television. They performed "That's the Joint".[7]
  • Patrick Weathers' final episode as a cast member.
11711Charlene TiltonTodd Rundgren
February 21, 1981 (1981-02-21)

  • Todd Rundgren performs "Healer" and "Time Heals"[7]
  • Prince performs "Partyup"[7]
  • Guest appearance by Don King.
  • The debut of Eddie Murphy's "Mister Robinson's Neighborhood" sketch.[11]
  • Gail Matthius' final episode as Weekend Update co-anchor.
  • Larry Hagman was originally chosen to host, but he refused so the show went for his co-star Charlene Tilton.
  • During the goodnights, Charles Rocket (in a wheelchair after "getting shot" during the last sketch, in a parody of the Who shot J.R.? promotion for Dallas, on which Charlene Tilton had played Lucy Ewing) grumbles, "I'd like to know who the fuck did it" in response to Tilton's query on how Rocket felt after being gunned down[12]
11812Bill MurrayDelbert McClintonMarch 7, 1981 (1981-03-07)

  • Delbert McClinton performs "Givin' It Up for Your Love" and "Shotgun Rider"[7] with Bonnie Bramlett joining him on vocals.
  • In the cold opening, Bill Murray encouraged the cast members not to worry about ratings or reviews.
  • Mark King appeared as Dr. Jonathan Lear during Weekend Update, now called Saturday Night Newsline. The news section appears in three segments (King's science portion, an Oscar predictions segment with Bill Murray and a newscast with Charles Rocket).
  • Bill Murray reprised his Nick the Lounge Singer character from his 1977–1980 stint on the show.
  • Paul Shaffer made a cameo as Nick's pianist.
  • Bill Murray announced that the next episode would be hosted by Robert Guillaume with musical guest Ian Dury and the Blockheads,[13] but this episode was cancelled when Dick Ebersol replaced Jean Doumanian.
  • Despite being mentioned by Bill Murray in the opening sketch and making appearances throughout the episode, Hudson, Laurance, and Weathers don't receive onscreen credit.
  • Gilbert Gottfried, Yvonne Hudson, Matthew Laurance, Ann Risley, Charles Rocket and Patrick Weathers' final episode as cast members (although Yvonne Hudson would continue to make uncredited appearances until 1984).
  • Jean Doumanian's final episode as executive producer.[2]
11913NoneJr. Walker & the All-StarsApril 11, 1981 (1981-04-11)

  • Jr. Walker & the All-Stars performs "(I'm a) Road Runner", "Shotgun", "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)" and "What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)".[7]
  • Chevy Chase appeared in the cold open along with Mr. Bill, reminiscing about the good old days, then stumbles and crushes Mr. Bill; Chase returned to anchor Weekend Update.
  • Al Franken joined Chase on "Weekend Update" to discuss season 6, frequently using the phrase "me, Al Franken", as he had done in previous seasons when arguing that the 1980s be known as "The Al Franken Decade".[14]
  • Al Franken announced that he and Tom Davis would host the next episode with musical guest The Grateful Dead,[15] but this episode was cancelled due to the writers' strike.
  • Prior to introducing Jr. Walker & the All-Stars' second musical number, Chevy Chase appeared with Christopher Reeve and Robin Williams to tell the audience the show was improving.
  • Dick Ebersol's first episode as executive producer.
  • Robin Duke, Tim Kazurinsky and Tony Rosato's first episode as cast members.
  • Laurie Metcalf and Emily Prager's only episode as cast members (Laurie Metcalf appeared only in a pre-taped segment during "Weekend Update"; Emily Prager, despite her billing in the credits, did not appear in the show at all; both hold the record for shortest stint as an SNL cast member).
  • Denny Dillon and Gail Matthius' final episode as cast members.
  • Don Pardo's last episode as announcer (until season 8).

Canceled episodes with booked guests[edit]

Airdate Host Musical Guest Comments
March 14, 1981 Robert Guillaume Ian Dury and the Blockheads Robert Guillaume hosted in season 8 on March 1983, with musical guest Duran Duran.
April 18, 1981 Tom Davis & Al Franken The Grateful Dead Al Franken and Tom Davis returned to the show in 1985 as producers. Davis died of cancer in 2012, and Franken left the show in 1995.
April 25, 1981 Dan Aykroyd Pat Benatar Dan Aykroyd returned to host on May 2003, on the season 28 finale.
May 2, 1981 Steve Martin Neil Young Steve Martin returned to the show on season 12, in December 6, 1986, with musical guest Randy Newman.
May 9, 1981 Brooke Shields Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Brooke Shields has yet to host an episode of Saturday Night Live. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers returned to the show on February 19, 1983.
May 16, 1981 Buck Henry REO Speedwagon Buck Henry is a frequent host. He has hosted 10 times. This would've been his 11th time. As of 2019 he has not returned since 1980.

Critical reception[edit]

Responses to Doumanian's SNL were negative. The Associated Press, mocking the Carters-in-the-Oval-Office sketch, wrote, "The new Saturday Night Live is essentially crude, sophomoric and most of all self-consciously 'cool.' It is occasionally funny ... Under producer Jean Doumanian, Saturday Night Live will define 'risk-taking' as a little naughtier, perhaps a little raunchier; it won't wander too far off the beaten path ... They're all clones. This is television. If they can be funny once in a while, that's all we can ask."[16]

The New York Times said the season "looked almost exactly as it did in previous years, but actually only the shell remained". The review went on to state that the "missing ingredient was the very quality that made the old show so special: an innovative vision", and that the new show was "nothing so much as an unfunny parody of its predecessor".[17]

Hill and Weingrad summarized other reviews:

The Washington Star said the show "strained and groaned" while the humor was "almost completely lost, despite desperate attempts to wring it out of raunch." Newsday's Marvin Kitman, as expected, ravaged the show gleefully, calling it "offensive and raunchy," and worse, not funny. "This new edition is terrible," he wrote. "Call it 'Saturday Night Dead on Arrival'."[18]

Tom Shales wrote:

Shales had always been Saturday Night<nowiki>'<nowiki>s strongest and most prestigious booster, and thus his reaction to the new show was more important than most. The headline on his review read FROM YUK TO YECCCH. The first sentence was: "Vile from New York—It's Saturday Night." The show, Shales said, was a "snide and sordid embarrassment". It imitated the "ribaldry and willingness to prod sacred cows" of the Lorne Michaels years without having the least "compensating satirical edge". It was, he wrote, "just haplessly pointless tastelessness". Shales concluded that despite one or two imaginative moments from the show's filmmakers, "from the six new performers and 13 new writers hired for the show, viewers got virtually no good news." ... Jean made it clear that she thought the writing was primarily at fault. "It's just got to be funnier," she said. Then she put a tape of the show on her videocassette machine to begin a sketch-by-sketch critique. According to writer Billy Brown, as she did she said, "Watch this. And I hope you hate it, because you wrote it."[19]

In his book What Were They Thinking? The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History, author David Hofstede included this season as one of 25 runners-up to the list.[20]


  1. ^ a b c Shales, Tom (2003). Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live. Back Bay. ISBN 0-316-73565-5.
  2. ^ a b c Fennessey, Sean (October 13, 2010). "SNL and The Curse of the Transitional Season". SplitSider.
  3. ^ Bruce Handy (September 1999). "The Pee-wee Herman Story". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 2007-02-06.
  4. ^ Hill and Weingrad, p. 391.
  5. ^ Saturday Night Live in the '80s: Lost & Found (2005) on IMDb
  6. ^ Sowa, Tom (April 5, 1981). "Guild plays name game". The Spokesman-Review. p. D10.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Saturday Night Live: The First Twenty Years. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 1994. pp. 124–127. ISBN 0-395-70895-8.
  8. ^ "SNL Transcripts".
  9. ^ Hill and Weingrad, ibid.
  10. ^ Hill and Weingrad, p. 423.
  11. ^ Saturday Night Live: The First Twenty Years. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 1994. pp. 134–137. ISBN 0-395-70895-8.
  12. ^ Hill and Weingrad, p. 431.
  13. ^ "SNL Transcripts".
  14. ^ Hill and Weingrad, p. 446.
  15. ^ "SNL Transcripts".
  16. ^ Boyer, Peter J. (December 13, 1980). "Saturday Night Live is working trend tired". The Virgin Islands Daily News. Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. Retrieved April 13, 2013.
  17. ^ Schwartz, Tony (January 11, 1981). "Whatever happened to TV's 'Saturday Night Live'?". The New York Times. Retrieved April 12, 2015.
  18. ^ Hill and Weingrad, p. 412.
  19. ^ Hill and Weingrad, pp. 412-413.
  20. ^ David Hofstede (2004). What Were They Thinking? The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History. Back Stage Books. pp. 207–209. ISBN 0-8230-8441-8.