SNL Up Close: 1983-84

By the summer of 1983, Saturday Night Live had re-stabilized, and had a genuine movie star in its cast: Eddie Murphy, who reached box office success with 48 Hours and Trading Places. However, the new season would prove to be his last, as it was only a matter of time before Murphy's burgeoning career would push him beyond SNL. To keep their star an extra year, NBC and SNL executive producer Dick Ebersol allowed Murphy to do the show on a part-time basis, with his appearances on his weeks off made possible by a bank of eleven sketches taped with the cast in Studio 8H on September 21, 1983.

Unlike the previous three seasons, there were no cast departures (though Gary Kroeger was fired and quickly rehired over the summer), and while Murphy was on his way out, he and Joe Piscopo still continued to be the focus of many sketches. Newer hires Kroeger and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, already contributing solid work, got a much-deserved boost in airtime, while Mary Gross began to be credited as a writer alongside Murphy, Piscopo, Tim Kazurinsky and Robin Duke. The sole new face in the cast was Jim Belushi, younger brother of John. Despite a commitment to a production of Sam Shephard's  True West forcing Belushi to miss a handful of shows early in the season, he quickly became one of the show's dominant players.

The writing staff had comparatively more turnover: Barry W. Blaustein and David Sheffield left for Hollywood and rookie writers Paul Barrosse and Ellen L. Fogle were let go. Brought onboard for 1983-84 were Andy Breckman (poached from Late Night with David Letterman), Adam Green, Kevin Kelton (a former writer for SNL's one-time West Coast rival Fridays), and Michael Clayton McCarthy; founding SNL writer Herb Sargent also returned to take charge of the Saturday Night News segment. Of these new hires, Breckman proved to be an especially solid and prolific addition to the staff. Writer-producer Bob Tischler also began to have a stronger influence on what material made it into the show, which allowed for sharper material than what Dick Ebersol, more a "numbers guy" than a comedy writer, normally kept in the show.

Ebersol's control in other areas still remained, though, and the show still shied away from harder-edged political satire, to the dismay of several writers and performers: Tim Kazurinsky and Brad Hall both clashed with Ebersol about the material that made it to air. Hall was also removed from Saturday Night News mid-season, with the segment's anchor duties usually falling to whoever was hosting the show that week. 

The second half of the season brought two more developments: the debut (and quick demise) of Lorne Michaels' new sketch show The New Show, and the show's increased use of pre-filmed sketches. The New Show's poor ratings and reviews only served to vindicate and reinvigorate the SNL staff, while the filmed sketches that appeared over the next year and a half (usually directed by regular film unit directors Claude Kerven and John Fox) would be some of the show's best-remembered work.

As with the previous three seasons, I will be posting sketch-by-sketch reviews; expect the new reviews of each show every weekend (as my schedule allows), with the Tartikoff review coming tonight or tomorrow. If anyone has information to contribute about the episodes, such as who wrote what, writer cameos, etc., I welcome it and will acknowledge my source in the sketch review.

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