***** - Classic
**** - Great
*** - Good/Average
** - Meh
* - Awful
OPENING: PEP TALK
Lorne Michaels tells the cast that NBC has given Francis Ford Coppola complete creative control over tonight’s show.
This mainly serves as a set-up to the running premise for tonight’s show, though there are some bits of humor from Terry Sweeney’s obsequiousness and Lorne Michaels saying he’ll continue as a supervisor until he’s moved into wrestling.
While Joan Cusack asks if the show will still begin with “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night”, Lorne tells her that it would be up to Francis before the scene fades to black and the opening titles begin. Nice variation on the show’s usual format, and a good indication of the format-breaking to come.
Rerun alterations: This whole segment is replaced with the dress rehearsal version in repeats: Dennis Miller is not present in the dress take, and Robert Downey Jr. wears a red shirt. The dress version also runs about 30 second longer, with more dialogue from Lorne Michaels and Terry Sweeney (“That raving egomaniac, he’ll ruin the show!”) that sets up the latter’s running plotline a little better.
Instead of the regular opening montage, the show’s title sequence is a movie-like credits sequence superimposed over a shot of the studio that slowly lights up as the Philip Glass Ensemble plays “Facades” (Movement V from 1982’s Glassworks). Only the names of tonight’s performers are shown, with the casts’s names listed in order of appearance.
Rerun alterations: The NBC peacock in the “In Stereo” graphic is replaced with the newer version for the repeat.
Francis Ford Coppola has George Wendt and the audience do another take of his monologue joke and their reaction; afterward, Terry Sweeney volunteers his services.
The running gag begins in earnest here, with a solid piece where Coppola instructs the audience to create the “illusion” that George Wendt is telling a joke and suggesting they use sense memory if they don’t feel like laughing, even asking Wendt “Where’s the funny part?”. This is also wisely kept short, with Coppola satisfied with just the one joke and not letting Wendt tell his story.
Sweeney’s immediate about-face from the cold opening is also very funny.
There are some different shots and camera angles than usual, including a tracking shot from the door on home base where the host enters that really shows off that year’s set nicely. The transition to the next scene, with Coppola and Al Camoin moving to the side stage is also really nicely done.
Rerun alterations: George Wendt’s entrance up to Coppola’s first interruption is replaced with dress rehearsal footage. Mild audience sweetening.
SKETCH: THE HONEYMOONERS: THE LOST EPISODES
Ralph (George Wendt) makes good on his threat to hit Alice (Nora Dunn).
I wasn’t too big on this one, partially because it didn’t have anything to do with the whole running concept, partially because of the premise, and partially because it was just dull and didn’t really go anywhere after Ralph knocks Alice out. Aside from a few lines from Anthony Michael Hall as Ed Norton immediately after, most of the laughs in this piece were unintentional, including Wendt making his entrance from the wrong door on the set (“I was hiding in the bedroom the whole time!”, missed cues and character breaks, and a set door that doesn’t seem to close properly.
I did like Nora Dunn’s performance as Alice, but George Wendt’s Ralph didn’t really sound too much like Jackie Gleason. Anthony Michael Hall as Norton made sense from a physical perspective, but Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd both did better takes on the character.
Written by Al Franken and Tom Davis; the veterans were warier of tonight’s more conceptual bent than the new writers and wanted to ensure there were several traditional sketches.
Rerun alterations: A few seconds at the beginning are removed to cut a technical gaffe where the picture isn’t in black-and-white until a few seconds in. Moderate audience sweetening.
Francis Ford Coppola objects when a Tic-Tac commercial runs; posing as Grant Tinker, Tommy Flanagan (Jon Lovitz) told him tonight would be commercial-free.
The fourth Liar sketch in as many shows, but it works; as much as the show tended to overuse the character, there were usually some solid lines in each sketch, Lovitz always got laughs, and it was one of those bits that could be used in so many different contexts. I particularly liked Flanagan’s insistence that the commercial was a “news bulletin” about a “hailstorm” of Tic-Tacs, and his promise to have the man responsible “fir…er, flogged”. I’m also enjoying Sweeney’s sucking up (“You made those actors look so professional!”).
The Tic-Tac commercial interrupted by Coppola plays in full after this segment in the original and same-season repeat broadcasts.
Rerun alterations: Mild audience sweetening.
SKETCH: MYSTERY PLAYHOUSE
Francis Ford Coppola takes over the live camera switching from Dave Wilson and botches all the cues.
Another short, simple and effective piece; the premise seems a little obvious (of course Coppola is going to mess up) but it was executed beautifully, and the framing device with him and Sweeney interacting with Dave Wilson in the control room provided both laughs (including another great Sweeney suck-up) and a cool glimpse into the show’s behind-the-scenes process.
Rerun alterations: Mild to moderate audience sweetening. Microphone feedback removed from Don Pardo’s introduction. A sound effect of a body hitting the floor added after the gunshot.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: “LIGHTNING”
Philip Glass performs this track, a collaboration with lyricist Suzanne Vega from his current Songs from Liquid Days album, with The Philip Glass Ensemble and featured vocalist Janice Pendarvis. This is one of his more accessible pieces (the album features Paul Simon, David Byrne and Laurie Anderson as his other collaborators), but it still remains one of the most interesting deviations from the show’s usual musical guest performances.
Rerun alterations: Slight remixing; Janice Pendarvis’s vocals sound like they have more reverb in the rerun.
Best jokes: Koop’s cigarette warning, McGriff corruption.
Another Weekend Update Dancers routine, this time interpreting the revelations about the Marcos’ financial holdings to the tune of “What You Need” by INXS, with dancers holding shoes, ornate frames and buildings, as well as one bejeweled dancer playing Imelda. This is probably more notable for Dennis Miller using the term “kleptocracy” in his preamble (which he mispronounces as “klepto-tocracy”).
Joan Cusack has her first Weekend Update commentary to review Oscar front-runner Out of Africa, panning the film for not being funny. It’s nice to see Cusack appear as herself, but it’s a shame to see her wasted on this weak piece (though I did like her interpretation of Midnight Cowboy as a funny situation).
The obligatory reference to tonight’s runner is limited to Francis Ford Coppola nixing Miller’s satellite interview with Pinochet for “not being original” and “too derivative of Ted Koppel”; this also ties into the running joke about the pronunciation of Coppola’s last name (“Cope-o-la” vs. “Coppel-a”) when he pronounces the Nightline anchor’s name as “Ted Kope-ol”. Unfortunately, in the live show, Coppola’s microphone isn’t working, rendering most of his dialogue barely audible (Dave Wilson can be heard saying “Get a boom on him”).
Rerun alterations: Moderate to heavy audience sweetening. Coppola’s segment is from dress rehearsal in the rerun.
SKETCH: THAT BLACK GIRL
Francis Ford Coppola doesn’t feel that Danitra Vance is playing a “real” black girl, so he revises the sitcom spoof into a gritty monologue.
One of the best pieces of the night. I don’t know what my favorite part is: the on-screen appearance of real-life SNL production designer Eugene Lee, the crew in the background transforming Latoya Marie’s apartment into dingy squalor, the jab at the makeup of SNL’s writing staff by depicting them as pipe-smoking upper-class preps, or Vance’s acting in the “revised” version of the sketch. There are also a lot of great lines from Francis Ford Coppola and Terry Sweeney, particularly the latter asking the “writers” why they write so poorly (“Just a question!”).
Written by Carol Leifer and Danitra Vance, with contributions from Mark McKinney (Sweeney’s “Why do you write so poorly?” line)
Rerun alterations: The scene after the opening title sequence is replaced with the dress rehearsal take, up to the line “Flowers, for moi?”; there are minor differences in camera angles and the stuffed animals on the windowsill. Mild audience sweetening. A second of footage is removed from the transition to the gritty scene to remove camera jostle.
Fishmonger Mr. Morrone (George Wendt) tries to unload a whale mistakenly delivered to his shop.
Wendt’s best showcase of the night; the premise is good enough, but he really sells his character’s desperation, particularly when he’s practically giving away a ten-pound slab of meat to Danitra Vance’s character (“It’s so bloody!” “So you know it’s good!”). The sketch is marred a little by Anthony Michael Hall’s performance, which seemed a little too low-key for the material and causes the sketch to peter out somewhat toward the end.
Nice to see Akira Yoshimura in another bit role.
Written by Andy Breckman and JIm Downey; this was another deliberately traditional sketch put in the show in case the Coppola concept didn’t work.
Rerun alterations: Mild to moderate audience sweetening; mainly just used to fill out existing audience reactions. Dave Wilson’s audible commands from the control room in the live show have also been mixed out.
Pretentious actors Ashley Ashley (Nora Dunn) and Jimmy Chance (Robert Downey Jr.) discuss how the last scene is actually about Francis Ford Coppola and share anecdotes about the director.
Just a short insubstantial outro from the previous sketch, but this has great characterizations from Dunn and particularly Downey, who creates a fully realized mixture of pretension and patheticness in his stories about his previous encounters with the director (“I kept his donuts well-jellied!”).
Rerun alterations: Mild audience sweetening.
MISCELLANEOUS: GHOST OF THESPIANS PAST
The ghost of Master Thespian (Jon Lovitz) encourages Francis Ford Coppola to take a creative risk by celebrating Studio 8H’s history in a grand finale (starring himself).
This isn’t so much a comedic sketch as a set up for the third act of tonight’s show, though it does work in some of the history of the studio and Coppola’s personal connection to it (his father Carmine played in Toscanini’s orchestra). As usual Lovitz get some laughs (and gets in the Coppola pronunciation joke), but Coppola has a little trouble with some of his line delivery which makes it a little awkward.
Written by Francis Ford Coppola, Jon Lovitz and A. Whitney Brown, with some input from Bruce McCulloch.
Rerun alterations: Mild audience sweetening, again mostly just filling out existing audience laughter.
SKETCH: VIETNAM SKETCH
Francis Ford Coppola has a crisis of confidence when the actors revolt after his use of live ammunition injures Anthony Michael Hall.
Great idea, with Coppola’s “creative control” having its most ruinous effects. There are some pretty funny moments throughout. Anthony Michael Hall’s overacting is a little bit of a detraction (moreso in the live show where he doesn’t get as much audience response), but Randy Quaid gets a great dramatic monologue, and the scene following Coppola through the studio and into the hallway was well done.
Despite being the grey-haired suit-clad version that current SNL viewers are more familiar with, Lorne Michaels still has a little bit of his boyishness from the show’s early years to him, particularly when he tells Coppola that he never told anyone what the big finale is; as well, this gives us the indelible sight of Michaels begging on his knees.
The halls outside Studio 8H are noticeably much more sedate here than how they’re usually shown in backstage scenes.
Rerun alterations: Heavy audience sweetening. More prominent war sound effects, and a “ding” is added right before the elevators doors open.
MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: “RUBRIC”
One of my favorite SNL performances of all time, with Glass and the Philip Glass Ensemble featuring soprano Dora Ohrenstein performing movement IV from Glassworks, with occasional time-lapse footage from Koyaanisqatsi running throughout. Very haunting and beautiful, and really seems to fit the mood of tonight’s show perfectly.
Although this piece doesn’t actually appear in Koyaanisqatsi, the inclusion of the footage works because Francis Ford Coppola produced the film and Glass composed the score.
Rerun alterations: Slight remixing.
MISCELLANEOUS: SUITCASE BOY
Joan Cusack horns in on Robert Downey Jr.'s “confrontational monologue” performance art piece.
Downey’s monologue has some pretty funny bad faux-deep lines (“I know why whales beach themselves. SPIDERMAN TOLD ME!” and “My demands are few but unintelligble”), and the sight of him and Cusack stuck in the suitcases is amusing,.but this was a more minor piece in tonight’s show. It works as a palate cleanser between the two previous sketches and the finale, though.
Downey’s self-inflicted suitcase topple comes very dangerously close to the edge of the stage on home base.
Written by Robert Downey Jr. and George Meyer
Rerun alterations: Moderate audience sweetening.
Master Thespian (Jon Lovitz) narrates Francis Ford Coppola’s tribute to live television, NBC and Studio 8H'; George Wendt has escaped to a bar tended by producers Al Franken and Tom Davis.
Not a particularly comic piece (aside from Lovitz’s overdramatic “Hullaballooooooo!” and his slipping into the Liar briefly while playing Master Thespian), but this was a great ending to tonight’s show, with historical clips, the SNL Band playing live (I get goosebumps at a certain point in their fanfare), and, best of all, a beautiful tracking shot around the studio showing the cast, Coppola and even the Philip Glass Ensemble on tonight’s sets, ending with the Update Dancers doing a kickline, which fades into the scene of Franken & Davis serving Wendt at the bar.
I like the last little bit of self-deprecation/fourth-wall breaking in the bar scene; after Wendt responds to Franken and Davis’s question about his experience with a Colonel Kurtz style “The horror…the horror…”, F&D respond “How do you think we feel? We’re the producers!”
Written by Al Franken, Tom Davis and Francis Ford Coppola
Rerun alterations: Mild audience sweetening. The SNL bands’ levels are fixed at the beginning of their fanfare.
Francis, Philip Glass, the Update Dancers and the cast wave goodnight from home base as George Wendt tries to hail a cab. The SNL Band plays a slower, more mellow version of the closing theme.
Rerun alterations: About six seconds of footage are removed to cut the shot of home base from the other angle with the performers still coming on stage. Closing theme slightly remixed.
This is one of those shows where the whole is so much more than the sum of its parts; while most of the individual sketches were entertaining in their own right, the conceptual nature of this show and throughline of the plot make this whole show essential viewing. Not only does tonight’s show take a bigger creative risk than the standard SNL episode, this also works as a self-deprecation on the show’s rough season and uncertain future, as well as a bit of a love letter to the work involved in creating a 90-minute live broadcast. Francis Ford Coppola’s willingness to poke fun at himself and involvement in the creative process this week certainly helped, but George Wendt also deserves kudos for essentially serving as a straightman all night.
I also think this show could only have worked at this specific time in the show’s history. As much as I would like to see the current show (which sometimes feels ossified) take a risk like this, SNL has become too much of an institution by now and the show’s process is so much more widely known that it would just feel too self-congratulatory. As well, the show’s beginnings are now further away from present day than the Golden Age of live television was from this show’s broadcast; Saturday Night Live is no longer the upstart that followed the long tradition before it, but now a cornerstone of the network in its own right with its own history.
That Black Girl
The Honeymooners: The Lost Episodes
Francis Ford Coppola
CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN:
Joan Cusack: 4 appearances [Pep Talk, Weekend Update, Suitcase Boy, Finale]
Robert Downey Jr.: 5 appearances [Pep Talk, Actors, Vietnam Sketch, Suitcase Boy, Finale]
Nora Dunn: 7 appearances [Pep Talk, The Honeymooners: The Lost Episodes, Mystery Playhouse, That Black Girl, Whale, Actors, Finale]
Anthony Michael Hall: 5 appearances [Pep Talk, The Honeymooners: The Lost Episodes, Whale, Vietnam Sketch, Finale]
Jon Lovitz: 7 appearances [Pep Talk, Commercials. Mystery Playhouse, That Black Girl, Ghost of Thespians Past, Vietnam Sketch, Finale]
Dennis Miller: 3 appearances [Pep Talk (live show only), Weekend Update, Finale]
Randy Quaid: 6 appearances [Pep Talk, Mystery Playhouse, Whale, Vietnam Sketch, Suitcase Boy, Finale]
Terry Sweeney: 7 appearances [Pep Talk, Monologue, Commercials, Mystery Playhouse, That Black Girl, Vietnam Sketch, Finale]
Danitra Vance: 5 appearances [Pep Talk, Mystery Playhouse, That Black Girl, Whale, Finale]
unbilled crew, extras and bit players
Bob Caminiti: 1 appearance [Mystery Playhouse]
Al Camoin: 1 appearance [Monologue]
Tom Davis: 1 appearance [Finale]
Al Franken: 1 appearance [Finale]
Jeannine Kerwin Tree: 1 appearance [Mystery Playhouse]
Eugene Lee: 1 appearance [That Black Girl]
Lorne Michaels: 3 appearances [Pep Talk, Commercials, Vietnam Sketch]
Terry Rohnke: 1 appearance [Mystery Playhouse]
The SNL Band: 1 appearance [Finale]
Dave Wilson: 1 appearance [Mystery Playhouse]
Akira Yoshimura: 1 appearance [Whale]
George Wendt: 6 appearances [Monologue, The Honeymooners: The Lost Episodes, Mystery Playhouse, Whale, Vietnam Sketch, Finale]
Francis Ford Coppola: 8 appearances [Monologue, Commercials, Mystery Playhouse, Weekend Update, That Black Girl, Ghost of Thespians Past, Vietnam Sketch, Finale]
Philip Glass: 3 appearances [“Lightning”, “Rubric”, Finale]
Janice Pendarvis: 1 appearance [“Lightning”]
September 6, 1986
None to mild: Monologue, Commercials, That Black Girl, Actors, Ghost of Thespians Past, Finale
Moderate: The Honeymooners: The Lost Episodes, Mystery Playhouse, Whale, Suitcase Boy
Heavy: Weekend Update, Vietnam Sketch
Edits: The Honeymooners: The Lost Episodes, Goodnights
Dress substitutions: Pep Talk (full), Monologue (first segment), Weekend Update (Francis Ford Coppola’s appearance), That Black Girl (first segment after titles)
Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.