Monday, March 11, 2013

Saturday Night: A Backstage History

1986, 1987 Vintage Books edition
Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad
Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live
Bought new for $8.95
Falling apart paperback

In a way this is a follow-up to 1975's CBS: Reflections in a Bloodshot Eye, since it not only covers the first ten seasons of SNL, but it provides background to the ratings madness that ensued when ABC shot to #1 and NBC fell to #3.  But unlike Metz making everything less interesting, Hill and Weingrad are great storytellers, so it doesn't really matter that I don't much care about SNL these days.  Growing up in the 1970s, it was the show that the teens and twentysomethings watched, and so when NBC started showing (edited) episodes in prime-time (in 1980 I think), I tuned in, and I watched new episodes fairly regularly through the '80s.  I believed "the show just isn't as good as it was," but there were moments that worked.  I stopped watching sometime during the Dana "Bush" Carvey years, although I'd later catch things like "the ambiguously gay duo" and the "needs more cowbell" sketch on Youtube. 

One thing that happened was when Nick at Night showed '70s episodes (edited down to an hour), I realized the show wasn't that funny to begin with.  Again, there were moments that worked, but it wasn't any better (or worse) than the '80s shows (the Doumanian season aside of course).  The "slash and burn" humor aged very badly, which is one reason that I ironically like the 5th season, when writer Michael O'Donoghue and Belushi and Ackroyd were gone, better than much of the first four seasons.

Anyway, although the book is very dated (Joe Piscopo did not exactly emerge as one of the cast members with long-lasting success), it's the first book where I can feel a definite time shift, as I did when I read The Ordeal of Richard Feverel.  That book was the first truly "modern Victorian" novel I'd read for this project, with trains and telegrams.  This is the first book where I feel some connection to the present, the sensibility of the humor (not just SNL's but Hill & Weingrad's).  That I bought it on my (first) college campus probably has something to do with this.  The feel is not yet contemporary but we're getting there, as opposed to Missile Envy, which despite its '86 revision seems more like '83.  On the other hand, it's hard to believe that Eddie Murphy was only 27 when this book came out.

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