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 televisionRead More
I had written before about how the repeats of Saturday Night Live are different from the live shows before (in an earlier blog post as well as a piece for Splitsider.com about segments cut from reruns), but one thing I've been thinking about lately is how there really isn't any detailed information in the major SNL episode guides about the repeat-only segments, although sometimes there would be information added to the trivia section of the TV.com listings.
Part of it is that some of these bits are so rare and unaccounted for (such as Gilda Radner's segment in Aviva Slesin's "First Love" series), and part of it is that if you're going to compile a list of those segments, you might as well compile a list of the segments that have major changes between live broadcast and rerun, including dress rehearsal substitutions and fixed errors. The amount of effort that would go into it wouldn't really be worth it, unless I were actually getting paid to do this (and you know Broadway Video / SNL Studios must have all this information on a private file somewhere). It still seems like an interesting project, though.
Here are but two examples of the many dress rehearsal changes that have become the "official" version of segments in reruns, syndication or streaming. Both come from the heavily edited 1985-86 season, which is notable in itself for the amount of technical issues fixed and canned laughter added in the rebroadcast versions.
"You Can Call Me Al" (Catherine Oxenberg, Paul Simon / Ladysmith Black Mambazo, 05/10/86)
The dress rehearsal take can be quickly differentiated from the live version by the color of Paul's shirt (pink in dress, blue in live), but the performances themselves turned out quite different. The dress rehearsal version is pretty straightforward: Paul sings the song, then introduces himself before delivering the "Live from New York" (which is a slight variant on the usual line this time around). The live show version is somewhat of a disaster: part of the problem is that the audience gives Paul an extended burst of applause at the very beginning, which delays his cue to start singing. All through the first verse, Paul struggles to keep up with the music (a backing track that the musicians are miming to) and gives up part of the lyric so he can sing the chorus in time. He seems a little thrown all through the song, but another big gaffe happens later when the director cuts to the SNL band after the "palindromic bass solo": the horn line begins but one of the players obviously doesn't have his instrument at his mouth.
The Cliffhanger (Anjelica Huston, Billy Martin / George Clinton & the Parliament-Funkadelic, 05/24/86)
The season finale of the troubled 1985-86 season had a runner where the devil (Jon Lovitz in a cheap Halloween costume) gets Billy Martin to fall off the wagon during the show, which leads to his inevitable "firing" as host. This plotline culminates in the final segment of the show: instead of going straight to home base with the hosts, guests and cast waving goodbye, the cast congregates in the locker room to congratulate themselves on the season, before it cuts to Billy pouring gasoline just outside to light the whole place on fire. The green-screened fire effect is marred somewhat in the live show by a visible folding chair in the flames, and Lorne Michaels doesn't look at the camera when he delivers the "they won't be able to do the show next year line". The biggest difference is in the part where Martin joins Anjelica Huston and George Clinton at home base for the goodnights: when Anjelica asks where Billy is, her question is interrupted by a still mic'd Billy's very loud footsteps running; Anjelica laughs and does a slashy "cut" motion with her hand, and they don't do their dialogue for the closing. The rerun also has a visible edit during the end sequence with the cast in the smoke-filled locker room (removing Anthony Michael Hall yelling for help in an exaggerated way).