Classic SNL Review: January 19, 1985: Roy Scheider / Billy Ocean (S10E11)

Classic SNL Review: January 19, 1985: Roy Scheider / Billy Ocean (S10E11)

Sketches include “Inauguration”, “Super Sunday”, “Scalper”, “In Praise of Women”, “The Flaming Parrot”, “Good Cop, Bad Cop” and “Mental Hospital. Billy Ocean performs “Caribbean Queen” and “Loverboy”. Steven Wright also performs.

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A list of SNL Deep Cuts: Introduction

A list of SNL Deep Cuts: Introduction

In addition to my weekly reviews of the 1984-85 season, I've decided to post a second weekly series highlighting some of the unsung sketches throughout SNL's long history. Each week (ideally on Wednesday, but sometimes life gets in the way), I will be posting a list of 25 sketches from each 5 year block of the show's history (five sketches per season), a description of the sketch, and what about it that's worth checking out.

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Classic SNL Review: December 15, 1984: Eddie Murphy / Robert Plant & The Honeydrippers (S10E09)

Classic SNL Review: December 15, 1984: Eddie Murphy / Robert Plant & The Honeydrippers (S10E09)

Sketches include “Buckwheat Lives!”, “White Like Eddie”, “Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood”, “Milestones”, “Lifestyles of the Relatives of the Rich & Famous”, “The End of Buckwheat”, “Broadway Gumby Rose”, “Newsmakers”, “Black History Minute”, and “Climbing the Stairs.” Robert Plant & The Honeydrippers perform “Rockin’ At Midnight” and “Santa Claus is Back in Town”.

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Classic SNL Review: December 8, 1984: Ringo Starr / Herbie Hancock (S10E08)

Classic SNL Review: December 8, 1984: Ringo Starr / Herbie Hancock (S10E08)

Sketches include “Beatles Auction”, “Unlucky Man”, “Do You Know What I Hate?”, “Ringo’s Buyers”, “Strictly From Blackwell”, “Massacre on 34th Street”, “Reverse Psychology”, “Fernando’s Hideaway” and “Draft Dodger”. Herbie Hancock & The Rockit Band perform “Junku” and “Rockit”.

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Classic SNL Review: December 1, 1984: Ed Begley, Jr. / Billy Squier (S10E07)

Classic SNL Review: December 1, 1984: Ed Begley, Jr. / Billy Squier (S10E07)

Sketches include “Adopted Son”, “Kate & Ali”, “Book Beat”, “Seventh Wedge”, “Let’s Watch T.V.”, “Marty”, “Vaudeville Funeral”, “Eyeball to Eyeball”, and “Elevator Stool”. Billy Squier performs “Rock Me Tonite” and “All Night Long”.

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Classic SNL Review: November 17, 1984: Ed Asner / The Kinks (S10E06)

Classic SNL Review: November 17, 1984: Ed Asner / The Kinks (S10E06)

Sketches include “Rescue Mission”, “Walking After Midnight (Wing Tips)”, “Thanksgiving”, “60 Minutes”, “Me and Julio”, “Bowling”, “Tippi Turtle”, “You Can’t Put Too Much”, “Public Service Announcement”, and “Peter Pan”. The Kinks perform “Do It Again” and “Word of Mouth”.

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Classic SNL Review: November 10, 1984: George Carlin / Frankie Goes To Hollywood (S10E05)

Classic SNL Review: November 10, 1984: George Carlin / Frankie Goes To Hollywood (S10E05)

Sketches include “Mondale Impression”, “Do You Know What I Hate? (II)”, “Profiles in Sports”, “The Joe Franklin Show”, “Rich Hall’s Election Report”, “Strategic Airborne Contraceptive”, “Ye Olde Comedy Shoppe”, “The Ghostbuster Show”, “Ted’s Book of World Records”, “Alan Thicke’s In Thickeness and In Health”, “International Star Health”, and “Not A Cop”. Frankie Goes To Hollywood performs “Two Tribes” and “Born To Run”.

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Classic SNL Review: November 3, 1984: Michael McKean / Chaka Khan (S10E04)

Classic SNL Review: November 3, 1984: Michael McKean / Chaka Khan (S10E04)

Sketches include “Gerry and the Mon-Dells”, “The Chosen Pray”, “Baby Double”, “Fernando’s Hideaway”, “The Folksmen”, “Buddy Young Jr. is Back!”, “First Draft Theatre”, “Madonna Navel Accessories”, “PBS Pledgebration”, “Rabbi”, “Mondale Headquarters” and “SNL Fashion Report”. Chaka Khan performs “I Feel For You” and “This Is My Night”.

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Reading list: March/April 2018

Books reviewed:
The Naked Civil Servant - Quentin Crisp
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman
When You Find Out The World Is Against You - Kelly Oxford
Trans: A Memoir - Juliet Jacques
Next Year For Sure - Zoey Leigh Peterson
Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and The Fight for Trans Equality - Sarah McBride

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Name the SNL Extras #4

As part of my research for my reviews, I try to identify bit parts or recurring extras in sketches because they are often show staff like writers, production assistants, and even sometimes technical crew; I've helped Joel Navaroli, the webmaster of SNL Archives, fill in a lot of this information on his site. I've done several of these posts before (and am still looking for answers on the first, second, and third ones), but for the past little while, I've been re-sharing my old reviews on social media, and thought I'd try to get some names put to faces that have been bugging me since I originally wrote them. 

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Classic SNL Review: October 20, 1984: Rev. Jesse Jackson / Andrae Crouch, Wintley Phipps (S10E03)

Classic SNL Review: October 20, 1984: Rev. Jesse Jackson / Andrae Crouch, Wintley Phipps (S10E03)

Sketches include "Advice", "Do You Know What I Hate?", "The Question Is Moot!", "Refrigerator Magnet Safety Advisory Board", "Just Kidding", "First Class", "Tippi Turtle", "Wrong Voice, Right Face", "Funny Black People", "Jeane", "Rich Hall's Election Report", "Fashion Report" and "Rainbow Coalition". Andrae Crouch performs "Right Now" and Wintley Phipps performs "Tell Me Again".

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Classic SNL Review: October 13, 1984: Bob Uecker / Peter Wolf (S10E02)

Classic SNL Review: October 13, 1984: Bob Uecker / Peter Wolf (S10E02)

Sketches include "Password", "Snap, Crackle & Pop", "An American Portrait", "Little League Trade", "Brokaw's Complaint", "The Mamie Eisenhower Center for the Dull", "7x4", "Ballplayers", "Lost & Found", "Tippi Turtle", "SNL Mailbag", "Fresh Squeezed", and "NBC Sports Update". Peter Wolf and the House of Hits All-Stars perform "Lights Out" and "I Need You Tonight".

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Classic SNL Review: October 6, 1984: (no host) / Thompson Twins (S10E01)

Classic SNL Review: October 6, 1984: (no host) / Thompson Twins (S10E01)

Sketches include: "Lifestyles of the Relatives of the Rich & Famous", "Return of the Torch", "Rich Hall's Election Report", "Wheel of Fortune Interview", "Grandpa Howard", "Synchronized Swimming", "Mondale & Ferraro", "The Bulge", "First Draft Theater", and "Book Beat". Thompson Twins perform "Hold Me Now" and "The Gap".

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SNL Up Close: 1984-85

Saturday Night Live executive producer Dick Ebersol and producer Bob Tischler had more or less righted the ship by 1984, but Eddie Murphy’s departure that February meant the show had lost its biggest star and a crucial factor in the show’s survival to that point. Despite this loss, the show made it to the end of the season, but SNL’s future was uncertain; the season finale featuring five hosts could have would up being the last show, but was successful enough to earn the show another season and its first Emmy nomination since 1980.

Breaking with the show’s tradition of breaking undiscovered talent, Ebersol and Tischler signed a number of established comedy performers, many to higher-priced one-season contracts: Billy Crystal, already a two-time host the previous season; Martin Short from the just-ended SCTV; Christopher Guest and one-time SNL regular Harry Shearer, fresh off acclaim (and an SNL musical guest gig) for This Is Spinal Tap; Rich Hall from Fridays and Not Necessarily The News, and Pamela Stephenson from NNTN’s British progenitor Not The Nine O’Clock News. All but Stephenson were also credited as writers.  

To make room for the new group, Ebersol and Tischler cleaned house: Joe Piscopo, whose impact on the show slowly waned over the course of the previous season, was out, as were Tim Kazurinsky, Robin Duke and Brad Hall.  In the writers’ room, rookies Adam Green and Michael McCarthy were gone; Pam Norris, Margaret Oberman and head writer Andrew Smith had also departed as full-time writers, though the latter two would still occasionally contribute to SNL on a freelance basis over the coming year. Joining the writing staff that year were Fridays regular Larry David, Second City alum Rob Riley, and returning SNL writer Jim Downey, as well as a number of guest writers over the course of the season.

Despite these big changes, returning players Jim Belushi, Mary Gross, Gary Kroeger and Julia Louis-Dreyfus helped lend the show some continuity. Many key writers from the previous seasons also remained: Andy Breckman and Kevin Kelton returned for their second year, Andrew Kurtzman his third, Bob Tischler, Eliot Wald and Nate Herman their fourth; original SNL writer Herb Sargent also remained on board. Like in previous years, Ebersol and Tischler prioritized sketches featuring the bigger stars, leaving the remaining cast and writers to compete for the remaining airtime; beside the new group of writer-performers, Breckman and the team of Kelton, Kurtzman and Wald contributed a lot of this year’s scripts.

SNL in 1984-85 featured a growing reliance on pre-taped sketches (most directed by Guest, Breckman, Claude Kerven or John Fox), and an even stronger reliance on recurring characters: on any given show, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest and Martin Short usually dominated the first half hour with immediately recognizable characters. Crystal in particular thrived this year, owing much to his professionalism and willingness to collaborate with the other writers, while Harry Shearer’s relationship with the show soured almost immediately. A talented but exacting writer and performer, Shearer’s strengths were less compatible with Dick Ebersol’s more commercial direction for the show, and backstage tensions grew so toxic that Ebersol cut him loose mid-season.

Saturday Night News continued to limp along with guest anchors until Christopher Guest was installed as permanent anchor in December, with mixed results; Guest’s versatility made him a valuable addition to sketches, but on-camera as himself, his aloof demeanor tended to cross over into outright dullness. An SNL staple since the first show, the news parody had de-emphasized political satire in favor of guest commentary pieces by this point, and several shows this season dispensed with the news segment altogether.

A writers’ strike briefly interrupted the season in March, but the show returned for a final three-episode stretch, ending the year a month earlier than normal on April 13. By that point, Ebersol had grown tired of SNL’s grueling production schedule, and opted to focus his energies on Friday Night Videos and Saturday Night’s Main Event, a series of wrestling specials that ran in the SNL timeslot.

As usual, I will be posting sketch-by-sketch reviews, with new posts uploaded every weekend. Any information regarding the sketches (such as sketch authorship) and shows is certainly welcome, and will be incorporated into my reviews with acknowledgement

The episodes (with links to episode summaries in the SNL Archives):

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.