Saturday Night Live - Development


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Weekend Update

From 1965 until September 1975, NBC ran The Best of Carson reruns of The Tonight Show, airing them on either Saturday or Sunday night, at local affiliates' discretion, (originally known as The Saturday/Sunday Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson). In 1974, Johnny Carson announced that he wanted the weekend shows pulled and saved so that they could be aired during weekdays, allowing him to take time off.

NBC president Herbert Schlosser approached his vice president of late night programming Dick Ebersol in 1974 and asked him to create a show to fill the Saturday night timeslot. At the suggestion of Paramount Pictures executive Barry Diller, Schlosser and Ebersol then approached Lorne Michaels, and over three weeks, Ebersol and Michaels developed the latter's idea for a variety show featuring high-concept comedy sketches, political satire and music performances. By 1975, Michaels had assembled a talented cast including Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, Michael O'Donoghue, Gilda Radner, and George Coe. Originally, the show was called NBC's Saturday Night, as Saturday Night Live was in use by Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell on the rival network ABC. NBC purchased the rights to the name in 1976 and officially adopted the new title on March 26, 1977.

Debuting on October 11, 1975, the show became an instant hit, and as a result, the cast members became suddenly famous. Chase left the show during the second season and was replaced by a new and upcoming comic named Bill Murray. Aykroyd and Belushi left the show after season four. In 1980, after season five, Michaels, emotionally and physically exhausted, requested to put the show on hiatus for a year to give him time to pursue other ideas. Concerned that the show would be cancelled without him, Michaels suggested writers Al Franken and Tom Davis take his place, but then-NBC president Fred Silverman disliked Franken, and after Franken performed "Limo for a Lame-O", a scathing critique of Silverman's presidency, Silverman was furious at Franken, and blamed Michaels for approving the sketch. Unable to get the deal he wanted, Michaels chose to leave NBC for Paramount Pictures, intending to take his associate-producer Jean Doumanian with him. Michaels later learned that Doumanian had been given his position at SNL after being recommended by her friend, NBC vice-president Barbara Gallagher. Michaels' departure led to most of the cast and writing staff leaving the show.

The reputation of the show as a springboard to fame meant many aspiring stars were eager to join the new series. Doumainan was tasked with hiring a full cast and writing staff in less than three months, and NBC immediately cut the show's budget from the previous $1 million per episode down to just $350,000. Doumainan faced resentment and sabotage from the remaining Michaels staff, particularly males who did not appreciate a woman believing she could take Michaels' place. The season was a disaster, ratings plummeted and audiences failed to connect to the original casts' replacements like Charles Rocket and Ann Risley, but her fate was sealed when, during a sketch, Rocket said "fuck" on live television. After only ten months Doumainan was dismissed. Although executives suggested SNL be left to die, Network chief Brandon Tartikoff wanted to keep the show going, believing the concept was more important to the network than money. Tartikoff turned to Ebersol, who had been previously fired by Silverman. Ebersol gained Michaels' approval in an attempt to avoid the same staff sabotage that had blighted Doumanian's tenure.

"He put me on TV, and no one else would have done that. Lorne created a show that's impacted culture for over 35 years. No one has ever really successfully been able to replicate it."
-- Tina Fey on Michaels' influence on comedy.

Ebersol's tenure saw commercial success but was considered lackluster compared to the Michaels era, apart from the breakout of cast member Eddie Murphy. Murphy, the main draw of the cast, left in 1983 to pursue his already successful film career, and Ebersol decided to again rebuild the cast, breaking with history by hiring established comedians like Billy Crystal and Martin Short who could bring their already successful material to the show. Ebersol's final year with this new cast is considered one of the funniest of the series, but had strayed far from the precedent-shattering show that Michaels had created. After that season, Ebersol wanted a more significant revamp, including departing from the show's established "live" format. Following unsuccessful forays into film and television, in need of money, and eager not to see Tartikoff cancel the show, Michaels finally returned in 1985 after Ebersol opted not to. The show was again recast, with Michaels borrowing Ebersol's idea, and seeking out established acts like Joan Cusack and Robert Downey, Jr.. The cast and writers struggled creatively, and in April 1986, Tartikoff made the decision to cancel the show, until he was convinced by Bernie Brillstein to give it one more year. The show was renewed but for the first time in its history, for only thirteen episodes instead of the usual twenty-two. Michaels again fired most of the cast and, learning his lesson from the previous seasons, sought out unknown talent like Dana Carvey and Phil Hartman instead of known names.

The show ran successfully again until it lost two of its biggest stars, Carvey and Hartman, between 1992 and 1994. Wanting to increase SNL's profitability, then-NBC West Coast president Don Ohlmeyer and other executives began to actively interfere in the show, recommending that new stars like Chris Farley and Adam Sandler be fired, and the show faced increasing criticism from the press and cast, in part encouraged by the NBC executives hoping to weaken Michaels' position. Michaels' return restored an association with NBC that has lasted nearly 30 years. As head of Broadway Video and SNL Studios, Michaels has profited from the talent he's helped introduce, producing the TV series Late Night (during the eras of Conan O'Brien and Jimmy Fallon – both SNL alumni), 30 Rock (a comedy created by former SNL head writer Tina Fey, and loosely based on her experiences in that role), and Up All Night, starring fomer SNL cast member Maya Rudolph. Michaels also produced the TV film All You Need Is Cash, and a lengthy list of feature films based on SNL sketches; the most commercially and critically successful of these was Wayne's World.

Read more about this topic:  Saturday Night Live

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