Classic SNL Review: February 22, 1986: Jay Leno / The Neville Brothers (S11E11)

Classic SNL Review: February 22, 1986: Jay Leno / The Neville Brothers (S11E11)

Sketches include “Studio Tour”, “Target Earth”, “Dinner With Mike”, “Star Search”, “Evil Twin”, “Stand-Ups”, “Man Beat” and “The Further Adventures of Biff and Salena”. The Neville Brothers perform “The Big Chief” and “The Midnight Key”.

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Classic SNL Review: January 18, 1986: Harry Dean Stanton / The Replacements (S11E07)

Classic SNL Review: January 18, 1986: Harry Dean Stanton / The Replacements (S11E07)

Sketches include: “Press Conference”, “Gulf Coast Furniture Warehouse” “Cleveland Vice”, “Death of a Gunfighter”, “Hospital”, “That Black Girl”, “Big Ball Of Sports”, “No Offense” and “Jack’s Discount Emporium”. The Replacements perform “Bastards Of Young” and “Kiss Me On The Bus”. Sam Kinison also appears.

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Lorne's Missing Links: Steve Martin's Best Show Ever and The New Show

Lorne's Missing Links: Steve Martin's Best Show Ever and The New Show

Lorne Michaels stepped away from Saturday Night Live after the show’s fifth season, and his creation was kept alive by other producers, writers and actors for the next five years; when he returned to the show in 1985, he had a whole new cast, but many of the behind-the-scenes personnel were those who had been associated with his original five year tenure, and there were a handful of additions that would shape the show’s tone and look for years to come. Because the Jean Doumanian and Dick Ebersol eras each had their own specific directions and mostly unique personnel. one wonders what the show would have been like if Michaels had stuck around during that time. There are a few hints of what a Michaels-helmed SNL would have looked like in two of his TV productions during that period: Steve Martin’s Best Show Ever, a special Martin did for NBC in November 1981, and The New Show, Michaels’ ill-fated return to weekly network television

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SNL Up Close: 1985-86

SNL Up Close: 1985-86

In four seasons, executive producer Dick Ebersol had brought Saturday Night Live back from the cancellation, had the hottest comedian in America in the cast, and oversaw its transition from a live incubator of new comic talent to an increasingly prerecorded showcase for established comedians. By 1985, though, Ebersol found himself tired of the show’s grueling schedule, and, after toying with staying with a mostly-prerecorded version of the show that wouldn’t premiere until the next January, decided to step away. Brandon Tartikoff, president of NBC Entertainment, had to consider his options, and fast.

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Classic SNL Review: April 13, 1985: Howard Cosell / Greg Kihn (S10E17)

Classic SNL Review: April 13, 1985: Howard Cosell / Greg Kihn (S10E17)

Sketches include “Do You Know What I Hate? (VI)”, “Hospital”, “Inside Out”, “Run, Throw & Catch Like A Girl Olympics”, “Bar Mitzvah”, “Sports Beat”, “Fernando’s Hideaway”, “Red Guys Rap” and “Good Sex with Dr. Ruth Westheimer”. Greg Kihn performs “Boys Won’t (Leave The Girls Alone)” and “Lucky”.

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Classic SNL (sorta-)Review: March 2, 1985: SNL Film Festival

Classic SNL (sorta-)Review: March 2, 1985: SNL Film Festival

Billy Crystal hosts a selection of SNL’s filmed segments from the past few seasons; Siskel & Ebert are on hand to give their reviews. Films include “Synchronized Swimming”, “Kannon AE-1”, “Walking After Midnight”, “Buddweiser Light”, “Lifestyles of the Relatives of the Rich & Famous”, “Needleman”, “Prose and Cons”, “Hitchhiker”, “Video Victims”, “Ballplayers” and “White Like Eddie”.

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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: 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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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 Season 36: Still ill.

I wrote last year about how SNL was showing signs of severe creative fatigue, with an over-reliance on recurring material, and a higher number of disappointing shows than in seasons past.I mentioned that unless the show took steps to fix some of these very noticeable signs of wear, the show is only going to get worse. SNL is still sick.I would argue it's a bit worse than last season, ever so subtly.There weren't any violently obvious symptoms like with last season, but the times when it appears to be firing on all cylinders are fewer and further between.

The staleness has been lingering for years now and the stench is starting to get pungent.At least when the show was at its worst they took quick emergency measures to fix the show.I do hope for next year that the creative powers-that-be realize they need to operate, or we're going to watch the show suffer and decay even further.

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