Saturday Night Live (season 6)
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|Saturday Night Live (season 6)|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||13|
|Original release||November 15, 1980– 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.
However, 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 Michaels out the door. The sixth season began with a completely new cast and new writers, with Doumanian at the helm.
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 cast members, passing on such then-unknown performers as Jim Carrey, John Goodman and Paul Reubens. Doumanian sought a non-white cast member to fill Garrett Morris's 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.
Some accounts state that Doumanian preferred instead Robert Townsend, but Murphy was added (as a featured player) starting with the fourth episode, after much convincing from her colleagues and staff.
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 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 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 Rocket with one another. Onstage for the goodnights, Dallas star and that week's host, Charlene Tilton, asked 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, 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. The next show would be 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 Ebersol era begins
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 Doumanian. In his first week, Ebersol fired Gottfried, Risley, and Rocket, replacing them with Catherine O'Hara, Tim Kazurinsky, and Tony Rosato. Ebersol made offers to John Candy and O'Hara of SCTV to join the cast. Candy turned down the offer, so Tony Rosato was added to the cast in his place. 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. O'Hara suggested Robin Duke as her replacement, and Duke was brought in. 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 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, Ebersol also fired Dillon and Matthius, leaving Piscopo and Murphy the only remaining cast members from Doumanian's tenure.
bold denotes Weekend Update anchor
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. 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, 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.
|Host||Musical guest(s)||Original air date|
|107||1||Elliott Gould||Kid Creole & the Coconuts||November 15, 1980|
|108||2||Malcolm McDowell||Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band||November 22, 1980|
|109||3||Ellen Burstyn||Aretha Franklin|
|December 6, 1980|
|110||4||Jamie Lee Curtis||James Brown|
|December 13, 1980|
|111||5||David Carradine||Linda Ronstadt|
The Cast of The Pirates of Penzance
|December 20, 1980|
|112||6||Ray Sharkey||Jack Bruce & Friends||January 10, 1981|
|113||7||Karen Black||Cheap Trick|
Stanley Clarke Trio
|January 17, 1981|
|114||8||Robert Hays||Joe "King" Carrasco & the Crowns|
14 Karat Soul
|January 24, 1981|
|115||9||Sally Kellerman||Jimmy Cliff||February 7, 1981|
|116||10||Deborah Harry||Deborah Harry|
Funky Four Plus One
|February 14, 1981|
|117||11||Charlene Tilton||Todd Rundgren|
|February 21, 1981|
|118||12||Bill Murray||Delbert McClinton||March 7, 1981|
|119||13||none||Jr. Walker & the All-Stars||April 11, 1981|
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."
The New York Times said the season "looked almost exactly as it 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".
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'."
Tom Shales wrote:
Shales had always been Saturday Night'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."
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.
- Shales, Tom (2003). Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live. Back Bay. ISBN 0-316-73565-5.
- Fennessey, Sean (October 13, 2010). "SNL and The Curse of the Transitional Season". SplitSider.
- Bruce Handy (September 1999). "The Pee-wee Herman Story". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 2007-02-06.
- Hill and Weingrad, p. 391.
- Saturday Night Live in the '80s: Lost & Found (2005) on IMDb
- "The SNL Archives 1980". Retrieved 27 July 2012.
- Sowa, Tom (April 5, 1981). "Guild plays name game". The Spokesman-Review. p. D10.
- "SNL Transcripts".
- Saturday Night Live: The First Twenty Years. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 1994. pp. 124–127. ISBN 0-395-70895-8.
- Hill and Weingrad, ibid.
- Hill and Weingrad, p. 423.
- Saturday Night Live: The First Twenty Years. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 1994. pp. 134–137. ISBN 0-395-70895-8.
- Hill and Weingrad, p. 431.
- "SNL Transcripts".
- Hill and Weingrad, p. 446.
- "SNL Transcripts".
- 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.
- Schwartz, Tony (January 11, 1981). "Whatever happened to TV's 'Saturday Night Live'?". The New York Times. Retrieved April 12, 2015.
- Hill and Weingrad, p. 412.
- Hill and Weingrad, pp. 412-413.
- 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.