revolutions are sometimes subtle occurrences. Often, they start as only
stirrings. If your senses are keen, you can smell the change in the air, and
get the feeling that things may never be the same again. To watch its
seedlings start to sprout takes some concentration and patience, but it's a
wonderful thing to observe.
said, and I'm paraphrasing, that the revolution is coming, and it will be
televised. TV had its share, from Lucy to All in the Family to
Seinfeld, but NBC's Saturday Night Live was an especially unusual
ere old hat on television (been there and done that
since the days of Sid Caesar); however, the very same concept – in the age
of free love and casual drugs – now had an air of true danger. Each episode
felt like Anything Can Happen Day. Live TV and
sketch comedy w
This was the
first series aimed specifically toward the first generation to grow up with
television – spoiled and overly educated young people who would rather be on
TV than watching it. They delighted in gross-out humor, dirty jokes and as much
outrageousness they could get away with (which, in 1975, was just about
SNL was all about the fringe (nothing prime-time about it). Even the
show's title, Saturday Night Live, suggested an air of fresh
decadence: the night of the week to let loose, to not follow the rules, and
to do it as it happened, without a net (even musical guest John Sebastian
screws up the words to "Welcome Back," and starts again).
The show's comedic
cast was originally called The Not Ready for Prime Time Players (this would
eventually go away, but for the moment, it was another reference to the
fringe, outside the establishment). Its game plan was to wear
tastelessness and filthy humor as a badge of revolutionary honor. We are
dared to be offended, and at the same time, they don't give a flying eff if
debuted at the very midpoint of the 1970s was no small coincidence. Its time
had come. The nation was preparing for its bicentennial, but no one was in
the mood for it. After Watergate and Vietnam, everyone was too cynical. That
year, Jaws was the very first summer blockbuster,
(the show's naturally logical location) was teetering on the brink of
bankruptcy and implosion, and social relevance was in the process of
mainstreaming, be it in the form of any Norman Lear comedy or realism (like
The French Connection) at the movies.
watch this first season now, and you'll wonder what all the fuss was about.
Satire on television in the thirty-odd years since has been done to death,
to the point where we take it for granted and laugh almost on cue, out of
needing to or wanting to be amused desperately, and in on what is being made
Saturday Night Live is still live but barely breathing these days,
with plenty of competition to keep it from regaining its original glory.
When it first debuted, though, it was replacing Johnny Carson reruns and up
against dusty old movies on three other channels.
– the obvious counter-culture-but-mainstream-friendly choice for hosting the
premiere show – did his monologue about nothing ("why is there no blue food?
Where is the good scissors?"). A fake commercial ended with the line,
"because you'll believe anything." Lightning struck. Within a season, the
show went from a cult favorite to a hip-hungry audience of 22 million.
The hosts for
the first year were some of the biggest names in show business at the time
and are now mere answers to trivia questions (Louise Lasser! Jill Clayburgh!
Madeline Khan! Dyan Cannon! Elliot Gould!). Guest host Kris Kristofferson
shows more cleavage than his wife, musical guest Rita Coolidge.
first musical guests had an air of show biz about them that didn't quite
mesh with the hip vibe (Abba! Neil Sedaka! Anne Murray!). However, it was a
strange mixture of the old and the new (mostly the new), with the familiar,
melodic voice of announcer Don Pardo serving as the glue between the
Arnaz, Sr. was taken out of mothballs as one of the first hosts. Allow him
to blow your mind as he makes some casual pot references. As well, he sings
his ancient hit "Babalu," and the entire cast and crew forms an enormous
conga line. Old meets new. Even the hip Leon Redbone, doing his creepy
it's-so-old-it's-new routine, falls in line. And Andy Kaufman singing along
to scratchy children's records is another example of the new old.
cool, jazzy orchestra and it's slow slide-show of unusual pictures of NYC in
the opening credits, it was rambling, nervous and raw, a sloppy new way to
laugh, a true sense of watching people almost just like you "winging it" on
live television. This spirit would evaporate in coming seasons.
new entrees into comedy that I approve of," says Louise Lasser, giving it
her blessing on one of the messy first shows.
audience, with their feathered hair and unbuttoned plaid shirts revealing
hairy chests, is with them every step of the way, ("Who are we to judge this
person?" is a subtitle flashed at the bottom of a close-up of an audience
finds its way quickly, but it takes a few episodes. Musical variety, that
old warhorse, seems to be the initial idea, and there is even a low-key
Simon and Garfunkel reunion that is given more weight than the comedians.
supporting sketch-comedy players are an after-thought at first; eventually,
they become the main focus as they do their time and then move on to movies
and series and various degrees of bigger things.
separate adult version of The Muppets are given a try (watch them reading
"The Joy of Sex" and cracking marijuana jokes), but they're more skeevy than
funny and their stay is not long. Luckily, these are none of the Muppet
characters that we have come to cherish.
the first breakout star, is charming and funny in a monied-frat-boy way. You
can literally witness the fame going to his head as the season progresses.
His generic impression of then-President Ford and his earnest Weekend Update
reports make him an immediate favorite. Strangely enough, his Lucy-like
pratfalls are found to be hysterical by a studio audience wanting something
new, fresh and different (so much for that). Chase's premature leaving of
the show would become infamous and he would never be forgiven for it.
best-remembered for his use of drugs, doesn't seem to be using at all during
these initial episodes (his Samurai character is funnier to the studio
audience than it is to us, but he takes brilliant turns as Joe Cocker and
Marlon Brando). Fast-talking Dan Aykroyd shows us satire in a fresh way
(remember Bass O' Matic '76?).
Jane Curtin (the one who seems most suitable for prime time), the
desperately single Gilda Radner (not quite blossomed yet into her hilarious
prime), and the underrated, mysterious Laraine Newman (she's the first to do
Valley Girl and NPR voices as satire) round out the cast. Unfortunately,
Garrett Morris is only there for the black jokes.
how time flies. What was considered powerfully innovative then is now done
to death on YouTube: a film by Albert Brooks or Gary Weis (the first
season's resident short filmmakers) now feels amateurish; we are asked to send
in a "home movie" (on Super 8 or 16 millimeter, Candy Bergen instructs us);
Al Franken and Tom Davis have a college-age conversation while playing the
new videogame Pong; spoofs of The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy and Star Trek
are everything you will see a thousand times more in the next three decades,
but for the first time here.
best (or worst) indicator of how far the show has come is witnessing a very
young Lorne Michaels, the show's producer, long before he graduated to
silver hair and expensive suits. Here, he's wearing a sweater sporting
considered a problem child as the baton (or more likely, the joint) was
passed to a new generation, the series became an institution, which was its
©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: February 12, 2007.