SNL 1983-84: Final thoughts

In summary:

I wasn't expecting this to be as strong as it was; I always remembered this as the season where Eddie Murphy was half-on, half-off the show, and that the show struggled with his absence and the departures of his regular collaborators Barry W. Blaustein and David Sheffield. While there were a number of mediocre shows this season, on the whole, I found it to be a bit better than the previous year, and that the weak-to-good show ratio didn't necessarily coincide with Murphy's presence in Studio 8H. The second half of the season was a bit stronger than the first, which I attribute to a few things: the use of the show's film unit (something that would pay off even more the next year), a better integration of the guest hosts into the show, and the writing branching away from showcases for Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo and heading into odder, more conceptual territory. 

As important as Eddie Murphy was to the show's survival over the previous seasons, his absence from a number of the shows and departure before the year's end seemed to open up a few opportunities and forced the writing staff to take a few more chances than in the previous season. Murphy was missed earlier in the season, but there were a few weeks where he seemed to coast through the show, contributing mostly his star power and charisma. Joe Piscopo had a stronger start to this season and had one of his all-time best nights when Don Rickles hosted, but by the end of the year, he seemed more out of place; part of this was due to Murphy's departure, but the writing had also shifted by this point. 

Jim Belushi was a positive addition to the cast, though a better utility player than a featured star; his performing style seemed to fit the writing a little better than Piscopo's at this point. He seemed to do best with slightly put-upon types (the host of "Hello Trudy", his half of the Siamese Twins with Robin Williams) and somewhat shifty characters (the shoplifter, the job applicant in "Lie Detector"). Gary Kroeger continued to be the show's secret weapon, developing new characters like grumpy old man Walter and deceptively unsuave El Dorko, while ending the season with one of his best-remembered pieces ("Needleman"). Tim Kazurinsky also contributed solid utility work, though his stable of recurring characters was beginning to show wear at this point. When utilized, Mary Gross and Julia Louis-Dreyfus delivered; it may be hindsight, but Louis-Dreyfus seemed to show some flashes of her future as one of the premiere comic performers of our age.

The two performers that were lost in this shuffle were Brad Hall and Robin Duke. Hall suffered the blow of losing the Saturday Night News anchor post mid-season; while the segment had its issues, Hall wasn't the problem (in Live From New York, he expresses regret at the lack of political humor on the show). He also didn't seem to have as many chances to shine this year (his violently emotional Pete Best is an exception). As for Duke, many of her pieces were either cut after dress rehearsal (a number of Saturday Night News bits in November and December) or truncated when the show ran long ("Jacoby Escort Service"), and some of the little airtime she got was in weaker sketches ("Body Guard", "Misfits"). I'm curious if either would have fared better under Lorne Michaels' regime, though he's seen his share of performers who didn't reach their potential while on the show.

Strongest shows:

  1. Don Rickles / Billy Idol (Average sketch rating: 3.4/5)
  2. Edwin Newman / Kool & The Gang (Average sketch rating: 3.38/5)
  3. Barry Bostwick / Spinal Tap (Average sketch rating: 3.33/5)

Weakest shows:

  1. Danny DeVito & Rhea Perlman / Eddy Grant (Average sketch rating: 2.68/5)
  2. Michael Douglas / Deniece Williams (Average sketch rating: 2.69/5)
  3. The Smothers Brothers / Big Country (Average sketch rating: 2.7/5)

Best sketches:

  1. Witness Protection (January 28, 1984)
  2. James Brown's Celebrity Hot Tub Party (taped September 21, 1983, aired November 5, 1983)
  3. Larry's Corner (October 8, 1983)

Worst sketches:

  1. House of Mutton (January 21, 1984)
  2. MTV News (February 11, 1984)
  3. TV's Foul-Ups, Bleeps, Blunders, Bloopers, Practical Jokes and Political Debates (April 7, 1984)

Best musical guests:

  1. Stevie Nicks
  2. Spinal Tap
  3. Huey Lewis & The News

Worst musical guests:

  1. Madness
  2. Adam Ant
  3. Big Country

Writer tally and turnover:

(*) indicates the writer remained credited on-staff next season, (**) indicates a writer who was credited as a guest only the next year, and (~) indicates a returning writer from previous seasons.

  • Andrew Smith**~ (head writer)
  • Jim Belushi* (Thomas; Lewis through 5 Hosts)
  • Andy Breckman*
  • Robin Duke~
  • Adam Green
  • Mary Gross
  • Nate Herman*~
  • Tim Kazurinsky~
  • Kevin Kelton*
  • Andy Kurtzman*~
  • Michael McCarthy (Thomas through 5 Hosts)
  • Eddie Murphy~
  • Pamela Norris~
  • Margaret Oberman**~(Tartikoff through Newman; 5 Hosts)
  • Joe Piscopo~
  • Herb Sargent*~
  • Bob Tischler*~
  • Eliot Wald*~

Special thanks to Kevin Kelton, Nate Herman and Gary Kroeger for their valuable background information on their work this season.

I consider this blog a living document, so any new information that comes to light will be added to the reviews as it becomes available. If any SNL writers, performers, or crew members from this timeframe have information they would like to contribute or correct, I welcome your insight and encourage you to get in contact with me.

In two weeks, I will post my introduction to the 1984-85 season reviews, with the reviews themselves beginning on October 1, and will attempt to keep to a weekly schedule for the most part thereafter. 

I am interested in continuing on to the 1985-86 season afterward, but due to the amount of post-production work done on that year's repeat airings, I would prefer to have access to as many original broadcasts as possible so I can better track what was altered in each show.

As per my want list:

Season 11: 1985-86
missing original airings:

11/16/85 Chevy Chase / Sheila E.*
12/21/85 Teri Garr / The Dream Academy, The Cult
01/18/86 Harry Dean Stanton / The Replacements
02/08/86 Ron Reagan / The Nelsons*
03/15/86 Griffin Dunne / Rosanne Cash
03/22/86 George Wendt & Francis Ford Coppola / Philip Glass*
04/12/86 Oprah Winfrey / Joe Jackson
04/19/86 Tony Danza / Laurie Anderson*
05/17/86 Jimmy Breslin / Level 42, E.G. Daily*
upgrades welcome
11/23/85 Pee-Wee Herman / Queen Ida* (looking for copy w/o/c with music intact)

Shows with asterisks (*) are higher priority; the shows without asterisks were not repeated by NBC that summer and later airings (Comedy Central, Comedy Network, NBC All Night) did not have the extensive post-production editing the rest of the season had.